Earlier this month the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) released a follow-up publication to its first statistical report on female genital mutilation/ cutting (FGM/C) in 2005.  The report in its entirety can be found here: Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change.  While concentrated across a wide swath of African and (to a lesser extent) Middle Eastern countries, FGM/C takes place in a variety of forms for a variety of reasons around the world.  In some countries such as Guinea, Mali and Somalia, well over 90% of girls and women of reproductive age have undergone the practice, according to the report.

In many countries, especially in rural areas, FGM/C is performed by traditional practitioners (primarily older women), but in some countries like Egypt it is frequently performed by trained health professionals.  In nineteen out of twenty-nine countries where FGM/C is concentrated, the majority of girls and women think it should end.  While often viewed as a manifestation of patriarchal oppression, rates of support for the practice among boys and men in many countries are roughly equal to that of girls and women according to the report.  FGM/C is linked to variety of both short and long-term medical complications such as severe pain, prolonged bleeding, infection, infertility and even death.

Ethnic grouping greatly determines why girls and women undergo FGM/C, with some reasons including social acceptance, beauty, preservation of virginity and a perceived association with religious beliefs (although no religious Scripture requires it). While prevalence of FGM/C amongst younger generations of girls and women is decreasing and many countries have outlawed the practice, faith communities have a major role to play in combating this form of violence against girls and women, especially in areas where it is a deeply entrenched social norm.  For instance, some faith communities have removed the cutting aspect from associated rites of passage for young women while retaining the positive aspects of the ceremony overall.

To learn more about female genital mutilation/ cutting and what UNICEF is doing to end the harmful practice, you visit UNICEF’s page on the subject here.