A majority of people in most countries where female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) is concentrated oppose the harmful practice, according to a new UNICEF report issued today. Despite that opposition, more than 125 million girls and women alive today have been subjected to FGM/C and 30 million girls are still at risk of being cut in the next decade.

The report, Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change, is the most comprehensive compilation of data and analysis on this issue to date.

Surveys in the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where FGM/C persists show that girls are less likely to be cut than they were some 30 years ago, and that support for the practice is in decline, even in countries where it remains almost universal, such as Egypt and Sudan.

But despite falling support, millions of girls remain in considerable danger. The report highlights the gap between people’s personal views on FGM/C and the entrenched sense of social obligation that fuels its continuation, exacerbated by a lack of open communication on this sensitive and private issue.   

“FGM/C is a violation of a girl’s rights to health, well-being and self-determination,” said Ms. Geeta Rao Gupta, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director. “What is clear from this report is that legislation alone is not enough. The challenge now is to let girls and women, boys and men speak out loudly and clearly and announce they want this harmful practice abandoned.” 

The UNICEF report finds through surveys that not only are most girls and women against the practice, but that a significant number of men and boys also oppose FGM/C. In three countries, Chad, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, more men than women want the practice to end.

In terms of trends, the report notes that in more than half of the 29 countries where FGM/C is concentrated, girls are less likely to be cut today than their mothers. Girls between 15 and 19 are three times less likely to have been cut than women aged 45-49 in Kenya and the United Republic of Tanzania. Prevalence has dropped by as much as almost half among adolescent girls in Benin, the Central African Republic, Iraq, Liberia and Nigeria.

While FGM/C has been virtually abandoned by certain groups and countries, it remains entrenched in many others, despite the health dangers it presents to girls, and even where there is legislation against it and efforts by governments and NGOs to convince communities to stop.

In Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti and Egypt, FGM/C remains almost universal, with more than 9 out of 10 women and girls aged 15-49 being cut. And there has been no discernible decline in countries such as Chad, Gambia, Mali, Senegal, Sudan or Yemen.

While the report welcomes legislation against FGM/C that has been introduced in the vast majority of countries where is practiced, it calls for measures that complement legislation and leverage positive social dynamics to bring about a change in social norms. 

The report recommends opening up the practice to greater public scrutiny, to challenge the misperception that ‘everyone else’ approves of the practice. It also points to the role education can play in bringing further social change, noting that higher levels of education among mothers correspond to a lower risk that their daughters will be cut and that while in school, girls may develop ties with others who oppose FGM/C. 

The report sets out key steps needed to eliminate FGM/C:

• Working with local cultural traditions rather than against them, recognizing that attitudes and conformity to FGM/C vary among groups within and across national borders;

• Seeking to change individual attitudes about FGM/C, while addressing the entrenched expectations surrounding the practice across wider social groups;

• Finding ways to make visible the hidden attitudes that favour the abandonment of FGM/C so families know that they are not alone – a crucial step to create a necessary critical mass and generate a chain reaction against FGM/C;

• Increasing exposure of groups that still practice FGM/C to groups that do not;

• Promoting the abandonment of FGM/C alongside improved status and opportunities for girls, rather than advocating for milder forms of the practice, such as ‘symbolic’ circumcision;

• Continuing to gather data to inform policies and programmes, as a vital part of efforts to eliminate FGM/C.

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Notes for Editors: 

The 29 countries represented in the report are:  are Benin; Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; Cote d’Ivoire; Djibouti; Egypt; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Gambia; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Iraq; Kenya; Liberia; Mali; Mauritania; Niger; Nigeria; Senegal; Sierra Leone; Somalia; Sudan; Togo; Uganda; United Republic of Tanzania; and Yemen.

The press conference will be broadcast at: www.visualwebcaster.com/unicef

Attention broadcasters and web sites:  The charts and graphs in high resolution format, along with b-roll and photos will be available at:  http://weshare.unicef.org/MediaResources

For further information, please contact: Rebecca Wynn on 020 7375 6082 / 07966 962984/ rwynn@unicef.org.uk 

UNICEF is the world’s leading organisation working for children and their rights in more than 190 countries. As champion of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF works to help every child realise their full potential. Together with our partners, UNICEF delivers health care, nutrition, education and protection to children in urgent need, while working with governments to ensure they deliver on their promise to protect and promote the rights of every child. UNICEF relies entirely on voluntary donations from individuals, governments, institutions and corporations, and is not funded by the UN budget. For more information, please visit www.unicef.org.uk