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Religious Tolerance logo

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM/C), primarily
in Africa, the Middle East & Far East

2013: Unicef report on FGM/C.
The religious connection.
in Africa & Middle Eastern countries.

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This topic is continued from a previous essay.

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2013-JUL: UNICEF issued Middle East & Africa report:

The report is titled: "Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change":

FGM/C is now the preferred acronym used by UNICEF to refer to "Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting." They report that: 1

"FGM/C is concentrated in a swath of countries from the Atlantic Coast to the Horn of Africa, with wide variations in the percentage of girls and women cut, both within and across countries.

The report lists 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where mutilation is commonly practiced. There are ten countries where this involves 75% or more of the female population. In order of decreasing estimated percentage of girls mutilated. the countries are:

  • Somalia where 98% of females are mutilated, to

  • Guinea 96%,

  • Djibouti 93%,

  • Egypt 91%,

  • Eritrea 89%,

  • Mali 89%,

  • Sierra Leone 88%,

  • Sudan 88%,

  • Gambia 76%, and

  • Burkina Faso 76%.

The UNICEF report:

  • Estimates that 125 million girls and women alive today have experienced FGM/C in 29 countries across Africa and the Middle East.

  • Estimates that "as many as 30 million girls are at risk of being cut over the next decade if current trends continue."

  • It affects only about 1% of girls and women in Cameroon and Uganda.

  • FGM/C is usually performed by traditional practitioners, sometimes in unhygienic conditions with no professional medical training. In countries like Egypt, Kenya and Sudan it is being performed by medical providers.

  • FGM/C is becoming less common in most of the 29 countries where it is widely performed. However, there has been little recent decline in Chad, Djibouti, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. 2,3

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The religious connection:

There is a widespread belief that FGM/C is only practiced by Muslims. One convincing piece of evidence that the practice is found among other religions is found by comparing data from two countries.

Among girls and women:

  • In Togo, 21% of Muslims have undergone FGM/C compared with only 1% of Christians.

  • In Niger, only 2% of Muslims have undergone FGM/C compared with 55% of Christians.

  • In many other countries it is common for FGM/C to be practices at similar rates for persons of all religions.

    • In Eritrea, about 98% of Muslim girls and women aged 15 to 49 years have undergone FGM/C; so have about 89% of Roman Catholics and 83% of other Christians.

    • In Egypt, about 93% of Muslim girls and women have undergone FGM/C; as have 74% of Christians.

    • In Mali, about 89% of Muslim girls and women have undergone FGM/C; as have 84% of Christians,

In Eritrea, Mali, Mauritania and Guinea, most girls and women aged 15 to 49 regard FGM/C as a religious requirement. In Mauritania and Egypt, most boys and men also regard it to be a religious requirement.

The 2013 UNICEF report states that:

"In Egypt, for example, the most authoritative condemnation of FGM/C in Islam to date is the 2007 fatwa (religious edict) issued by the Al-Azhar Supreme Council of Islamic Research, explaining that FGM/C has no basis in Sharia (Islamic law) or any of its partial provisions, and that it is a sinful action that should be avoided. Several regional and national fatwas have followed in the years since. Their text was based on the original statement." 3

However, millennia-old traditions are hard to kill. The main denominations and traditions of the principal religions in Africa and the Middle East generally tend to have very fixed and restrictive rules concerning women's behavior. They also tend to have a major concern about sexual activity, particularly pre-marital sex and adultery. FGM/C is widely perceived as largely eliminating sexual pleasure among women, thus making them easier to control.

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2015-MAY: FGM banned throughout Nigeria:

Of all the countries in Africa, Nigeria has the largest population: 183,523,432 people during 2015.

According to data collected by the United Nations, about one in four Nigerian women who are currently between the ages of 15 and 49 have undergone FGM/C.

On 2015-MAY-05, the Nigerian Senate passed the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015. President Goodluck Jonathan signed it into law on MAY-25. 4,5 The bill targets FGM/C and other forms of gender-based violence. 6

Stella Mukasa, the director of gender, violence and rights at the International Center for Research on Women in Washington, DC, said:

"Such laws are a must. They are particularly critical for organisations working tirelessly to end FGM. In Nigeria, this law provides them with a legal framework and backing to tackle the problem. The legislation sends a clear message on impunity and serves as a basis for holding government to account.

However, criminalisation of entrenched cultural practices has its limitations. While legal safeguards are an important step towards ending FGM, they are not enough to eliminate it. Ending violence against women and girls requires investment, not just laws written in statute books. This is why we must emphasise community engagement, with a view towards shifting social norms, as a critical component of the eradication of FGM.

It is crucial that we scale up efforts to change traditional cultural views that underpin violence against women. Only then will this harmful practice be eliminated. Doing so involves laws and policies, as well as community level engagement and programmes that work to empower girls directly. Education is crucial, and must work in conjunction with school systems. It is also important to promote reporting of the practice, ensure perpetrators are prosecuted and address stigma." 6

"Bona-Fide," a reader of the article in the Guardian posted a comment:

"Will the enactment of the law make a practical difference? Yes, to a certain extent and in the foreseeable future. However, the issue remains that FGM is a cultural/religious phenomenon and it is usually arranged by families, more specifically, a girl's mother. Just take a look at the UK. Has the illegality or prohibition of the act completely prevented families from forcing it upon their daughters? The answer is no. Like all issues, it will take time, effort and education in order to move forward."

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following sources were used in the preparation of his essay. Some may not be still available online.

  1. Abigail Haworth, "The day I saw 248 girls suffering genital mutilation," The Guardian, 2012-NOB-18, at:
  2. "Female genital mutilation and cutting: the latest numbers," The Toronto Star, 2013-JUL-22, at:
  3. "Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting...," UNICEF, 2013-JUL, at:
  4. Kimberley Richards, "History Has Been Made. Female Genital Mutilation Banned In Nigeria," A Plus, 2015-JUN-03, at:
  5. "President Jonathan passes Violence Against Persons Prohibition bill into law,"Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme, 2015-MAY-25, at:
  6. Stella Mukasa, "Nigeria's bill targeting FGM is a positive step, but must be backed by investment," The Guardian, 2015-0MAY-20, at:

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Copyright 2013 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2013-AUG-13
Latest update: 2015-DEC-31

Author: B.A. Robinson
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