What is FGM, and Why is it Practiced?

What is FGM?

Female genital mutilation refers to the practice of alter[ing] or injur[ing] a girl’s genitalia for non-medical reasons. It is universally recognized as a human rights violation, and a form of gender-based violence.


Worldwide Prevalence of FGM: Countries around the world where FGM is practiced. Source: UNFPA Data **FGM is also a risk in many countries in Western Europe, however data is not readily available for these countries, as often girls are taken from Europe to other countries to perform the cut.

Source: UNFPA Data

**FGM is also a risk in many countries in Western Europe, however data is not readily available for these countries, as often girls are taken from Europe to other countries to perform the cut.


It is primarily practiced in Africa, accounting for 80% of all cases, but incidences of it can be found worldwide, with over 200 women and girls currently living as FGM survivors, and 68 million more girls are at risk of undergoing the practice by 2030.


That’s over 8,000 girls being cut every day.


There is also a fear that an additional 2 million girls will undergo the practice by 2030 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.


FGM has many negative consequences for girls including:

  • Severe pain

  • Bleeding/Hemorrhage

  • Infection

  • Swelling

  • Difficulty urinating or defecating

  • Chronic pelvic infections

  • Urinary tract infections

  • Urinary incontinence

  • Obstetric fistula

  • Cysts

  • Childbirth complications (for mother and newborn)

  • Increased risk of HIV

  • Infertility

  • Emotional trauma (anxiety, depression, PTSD, etc.)

  • Death


In addition to these negative consequences for girls and women, the WHO estimates that the economic costs of treating health complications caused by FGM at 1.4 billion USD per year, with that amount expected to increase to 2.3 billion per year by 2047.


There are four types of FGM according to the WHO:

4 Types of FGM: Infographic depicting the four types of FGM: clitoridectomy, excision, infibulation, and other harmful practices.

Type 1: Clitoridectomy

Type 2: Excision

Type 3: Infibulation

Type 4: Other

This involves the partial or complete removal of the clitoris and/or clitoral hood.

This involves the partial or complete removal of the clitoris and the removal of the labia minora, with or without the removal of the labia majora.

This involves the partial or complete narrowing of the vaginal opening, with or without the removal of the clitoris.

This involves any other harmful non-medical procedures, including but not limited to cauterizing, piercing, pricking, incising, and scraping.


Types 1 and 2 are the most common, with Type 3 primarily being practiced in Somalia, Sudan, and Djibouti, affecting 10% of all women who undergo FGM. Type 3 is the most dangerous, as it not only leads to high rates of infection because it leaves only a small hole for both urine and menstrual fluid, but that opening is also often too small to allow for sexual intercourse or birth, and is cut open as a result, causing significant harm and complications (UNFPA).


Why is it practiced?

FGM is practiced for a variety of reasons that can be broken down into 5 categories:


Reasons why FGM is practiced can be broken down into 5 categories: psychosexual (To control women's sexuality, ensure they are virgins prior to marriage and stay faithful during marriage. Also said to increase male sexual pleasure.), religious (No religion endorses FGM, but many believe it to be justified by Christian or Islamic doctrines.), socio-economic (Often a prerequisite for marriage and inheritance, it can also raise a girl's bride price, which is usually an economic necessity for survival.), hygiene & aesthetic (Some believe external female genitalia are dirty or ugly, and remove them to supposedly increase their hygiene and aesthetic appeal.), and sociological/cultural (FGM is a rite of passage for girls into womanhood, where she becomes a part of the community. Also, there are several myths surrounding female genitalia that serve to perpetuate its practice.).

It is usually performed on girls from infancy up to age 15, and in many ethnic groups, the practice is nearly universal, making it almost impossible to say no. These girls don’t have the ability to give consent, and the consequences of undergoing FGM have lifelong negative consequences to their health and well-being.


Because FGM is rooted in multiple facets of society, it takes a multi-sectored approach to eliminate it. That is why Mekuno Project is devoted to working with organizations on the ground who are focused on culturally appropriate interventions and initiatives to combat the root causes of FGM. By taking on this holistic approach, providing tools to all stakeholders within a community to raise awareness, improve livelihoods, and create opportunities, we allow girls the opportunity to pursue futures of their own design.


For more information on our work, check out the programs we support here.

For more information on FGM, check out this UNFPA FAQ Guide.