Female Genital Mutilation briefing paper

It is estimated that some 140 million women, girls and babies throughout the world have been genitally mutilated. Another three million girls are at risk of such mutilation each year. Female genital mutilation is primarily practised in 28 African countries, the incidence varying markedly within various regions and countries according to ethnic affiliation. National rates of prevalence vary from 1 to 98 percent. The practice is also transported to Europe, America and else-where as a result of migration.

FGM is often practised out of respect for tradition and a desire to ‘belong’ socially. Assumptions associated with it are that social and medical benefits result from the practice and that women's sexuality must be kept under control. A particular social definition of female sexuality and identity is often implicit within these arguments. In some countries, the practice is also believed to be a religious duty. As a socially recognised practice, FGM enjoys the support of all of the members of a society, including the women themselves. Persons who fail to observe the practice risk social ostracism.

The form of FGM practised is primarily determined by ethnic affiliation. According to WHO estimates, 90 per cent of all cases of FGM involve Type I or II, or incision or piercing of the genitalia (Type IV). FGM is often part of a rite of passage marking a girl's transition into womanhood and also fulfilling the social expectations of woman in the culture.

The Sexuality working group of the WRRC Programme put together a briefing paper outlining the specific forms and risks of FGM. See below for full paper. 


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