Female genital mutilation (FGM) | ActionAid UK

Female genital mutilation (FGM)

Students Abigail (R) and Purity (L) in class at a school in West Pokot, Kenya. The school has been supported by ActionAid.

Abigail and Purity are childhood friends, from Kenya. Abigail escaped FGM and found sanctuary at an ActionAid-funded safe house and school in West Pokot. She helped Purity to flee when her turn to be cut came. Now they are both safe and enjoying school.

Photo: Ashley Hamer/ActionAid


Why does FGM happen?

Female genital mutilation is a traditional practice that’s been going on for thousands of years, and as such, is deeply entrenched in social, economic and political structures. FGM is illegal in many countries, including the UK, but because the laws aren’t always well enforced, and many people in rural communities are unaware of them, the practice still goes on.

Many parents consider it a necessary part of upholding family honour and tradition. Women, particularly older generations, who are custodians and key decision makers on FGM, view it as an essential part of a girl’s cultural and gender identity, and a social obligation.

Men and boys often grow up expecting that they will marry someone who has undergone the procedure and girls may want to be cut due to peer pressure, fear of social exclusion, and where it is a precondition for marriage. Individual attitudes against female genital mutilation often remain hidden due to the private nature of the issue and lack of open public discussion in communities. 

Though FGM is a cultural, not a religious practice, and not affiliated to any one religion, it is practised among various religious groups, under the misconception that it is a requirement.

Refusing FGM can have severe social repercussions, including being rejected by one’s family, becoming an outcast, and in extreme cases — such as certain areas in Uganda - being denied the right to speak in public. If a girl refuses, she will usually be forced to be cut anyway, or have to run away to survive. 


Types of FGM

The World Health Organisation has classified four main types of FGM.1

  • Type I — clitoridectomy: removing part or all of a girl’s clitoris and/or prepuce
  • Type II — excision: removing part or all of a girl’s clitoris and the inner labia (lips) with or without removal of the outer labia (excision)
  • Type III – infibulation: narrowing of a girl’s vaginal opening by repositioning the labia (lips) to make a seal (with or without cutting of the outer labia)
  • Type IV – all other harmful procedures: including pricking, piercing and cauterisation.

All types are a violation of girls’ human rights.

Types of tools used in FGM practices in Pokot, Kenya

Types of tools used in FGM practices in Pokot, Kenya

What’s ActionAid doing to end FGM?

ActionAid works in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somaliland, The Gambia and Uganda to end female genital mutilation.

HandsWe provide direct support to women and girls who have escaped FGM

TalkingWe help communities to learn and openly talk about its damaging effects

TeachingWe run youth groups to help boys and girls speak up to end FGM

WomenWe train women to form Women’s Watch Groups to report cases of FGM

CampaigningWe lobby governments to help pass anti-FGM laws

WorldWe campaign for an end to violence against women globally.

women helped to challenge violence against women and girls and harmful traditional practices like FGM (in 2016 alone)1

community-led projects to support women and girls to challenge harmful traditional practices including FGM (in 2016 alone)2

members of the ActionAid-supported Kongelai Women’s Network in Kenya, who campaign against FGM3

Ending FGM around the world

We want a world where FGM is a thing of the past. Progress is being made. More countries are banning the procedure and increasingly community members where FGM is practised are speaking out against it.

There’s a long way to go to achieve total eradication, but we will keep working until this practice is stopped, and is no longer destroying girls’ lives.

Donate to support our work protecting girls from FGM

Are you at risk of FGM?

If you think you, or someone you know, could be at risk of FGM, please seek support as soon as possible. These services may be able to help you:

NSPCC: Free, dedicated FGM helpline

Helpline for anyone concerned a child is at risk of, or has had, female genital mutilation (FGM). The helpline is free, anonymous and 24/7. Website has information on the signs and symptoms of FGM and how to help keep children safe.

Call 0800 028 3550 or email fgmhelp@nspcc.org.uk

Foundation for Women’s Health Research and Development (FORWARD)
African, women-led organisation with advice, one-to-one support and signposting for anyone who has had FGM.

Daughters of Eve
Advice for anyone at risk of FGM, or who has had any form of FGM, from staff who come from FGM-practising communities.


    Page updated 15 May 2020