Why does FGM happen?
FGM is a harmful traditional practice, a social norm, and a form of violence against women and girls.
The reasons for practising FGM are complex. It is a practice that goes back 2000 years, and it is deeply embedded in social, economic, and political structures.
FGM is illegal in many countries, including the UK, but laws are not always well-enforced and not always known about.
In some cases, communities are aware of the law but choose to keep practicing FGM as it is understood to be a social obligation and a necessary rite of passage for girls.
FGM pre-dates major faiths and is not required by any one religion. However, it is practised among various religious groups, under the misconception that it is a requirement.
Many families consider FGM as a necessary part of upholding family honour and tradition and a way of maintaining cleanliness and hygiene.
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.
Refusing FGM can have severe social repercussions, including being rejected by one’s family, becoming an outcast, or being denied the right to speak in public.
If a girl refuses FGM, she may be forced to be cut anyway, or run away to escape. This social context is why ActionAid believes in working with the whole community to abandon the practice rather than placing the burden on individuals to refuse the practice.
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.
- 1. World Health Organisation, 'Eliminating female genital mutilation - An interagency statement' ↩
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 believe that we can end FGM in a generation.
Progress is being made – more countries are creating laws banning the practice, and more communities are working together towards collective abandonment.
But there is still much to do to achieve total eradication. ActionAid will continue working in partnership with communities and women’s rights organisations until this practice is stopped, and all girls are able to lead lives of safety, dignity, and equality.
Are you at risk of FGM?
If anyone (yourself, someone in your family or anyone you know) is at immediate risk of FGM call the police on 999.
For further help, the following services may be able to help you:
For those who are worried about a child potentially at risk of FGM (or at risk themselves) the NSPCC 24 hour anonymous helpline can provide support 0800 028 3550 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Dahlia Project is a specialist service for women and girls in the UK who have undergone FGM, and provide therapeutic support groups
The National Health Service offers specialist FGM support clinics around the country
FORWARD provide information about FGM in the UK, advice services, and also have monthly coffee mornings to share experiences