• Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
• The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women.
• Procedures can cause severe bleeding as well as complications in childbirth increased risk of newborn deaths.
• About 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM.
• FGM is mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15.
• In Africa an estimated 101 million girls 10 years old and above have undergone FGM.
FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death. FGM has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies.
Who is at risk?
Procedures are mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15, and occasionally on adult women. In Africa, more than three million girls have been estimated to be at risk for FGM annually.
The practice is most common in the western, eastern, and north-eastern regions of Africa, in some countries in Asia and the Middle East, and among migrants from these areas.
Cultural, religious and social causes
The causes of female genital mutilation include a mix of cultural, religious and social factors within families and communities.
• FGM is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl properly, and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage.
• FGM is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered proper sexual behavior, linking procedures to premarital virginity and marital fidelity. FGM is in many communities believed to reduce a woman’s desire for sexual acts.
• Though no religious scripts prescribe the practice, practitioners often believe the practice has religious support.
• Religious leaders take varying positions with regard to FGM: some promote it, some consider it irrelevant to religion, and others contribute to its elimination.
WHO efforts to eliminate female genital mutilation focus on:
• Building evidence: generating knowledge about the causes and consequences of the practice, how to eliminate it, and how to care for those who have experienced FGM;
• Increasing advocacy: developing publications and advocacy tools for international, regional and local efforts to end FGM within a generation.
WHO is particularly concerned about the increasing trend for medically trained personnel to perform FGM. WHO strongly urges health professionals not to perform such procedures.