Five things you didn’t know about female genital mutilation

More than 125 million women and girls in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East have experienced Female Genital Mutilation or Cutting (FGM/C). UNICEF released a report on FGM/C last year that revealed some thought-provoking attitudes about the practice.

Here are five things about FGM/C that might surprise you

1. Boys and men state strong support for stopping the practice. It’s often presumed that men condone FGM/C and that it is one of the ways that they keep women subservient. This appears not to be the case. In fact, in countries such as Guinea, Sierra Leone and Chad, substantially more men than women want to see FGM/C end.

2. Girls and women consistently underestimate the proportion of boys and men who want FGM/C to end. In many countries, a large percentages of both women and men are unaware of what the opposite sex thinks about FGM/C.

3. The majority of girls and women want FGM/C to end. Girls’ and women’s attitudes about whether or not FGM/C should continue vary widely across the 29 countries where it is concentrated. However, in most of these countries, the majority thinks that FGM/C should end.

4. The need to gain social acceptance is the most frequently stated reason for supporting the continuation of FGM/C. Social acceptance trumps other reasons like better marriage prospects, preserving virginity, more sexual pleasure for the man, religious necessity and cleanliness/hygiene.

5. Many girls who are cut have mothers who are against the practice. Though a daughter’s likelihood of being cut is much higher when her mother thinks the practice should continue, many cut girls have mothers who actually oppose FGM/C. Some mothers may thus have their daughters cut despite their personal feelings about the practice.

So what can we learn from these five points? First, more dialogue and communication is essential. Ways have to be found to make bring to the fore the “hidden voices” that oppose FGM/C. Girls and women need to be empowered to speak out. Since substantial numbers of men and boys want the FGM/C to end, they can potentially be important agents of change and should be engaged in the conversation. There is clearly also a need for more open dialogue between men and women, and between boys and girls so that prevailing social expectations around FGM/C can be challenged.

A lot of progress had already been made in eliminating FGM/C. With continued effort and commitment many more girls can be spared the fate of their mothers and grandmothers.

UNICEF’s report on FGM/C was produced at UNICEF headquarters by the Statistics and Monitoring Section, Division of Policy and Strategy with contributions from the Child Protection Section. Claudia Cappa, Francesca Moneti, Nicole Petrowski and Cody Donahue contributed to this blog post.

Notes: This map is stylized and not to scale. It does not reflect a position by UNICEF on the legal status of any country or territory or the delimitation of any frontiers. In Liberia, girls and women who have heard of the Sande society were asked whether they were members; this provides indirect information on FGM/C since it is performed during initiation into the society, as explained in Box 4.2. Data for Yemen refer to evermarried girls and women. The final boundary between the Republic of the Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan has not yet been determined. Sources: DHS, MICS and SHHS, 1997-2012.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with “required.”


  1. Do you really think you can make such sweeping generalisations about the way FGM functions in patriarchal cultures from the data you have published?

  2. Thanks for your comment. The analysis is based on nationally representative household surveys in the countries in Africa and the Middle East where the practice is concentrated and reflect the attitudes of the women and men responding at the time of the survey. The statements are based on the patterns observed for the majority of the women and men in the majority of countries for which data are available. Given the representative nature of the samples used to gather the data and the availability of data for all the affected countries, we can draw some broad conclusions on what the majority of people think. While there are certainly many aspects of society that perpetuate discriminatory practices against girls and women, our analysis in the report (link) shows that many boys and men are increasing in favor of stopping the FGM/C. This is an encouraging sign and our programmes should find ways to show boys and men no longer think this practice should be continued.

    Claudia Cappa
    UNICEF Statistics Specialist (Child Protection, Child Disability, ECD)