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?

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.

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 and girls clubs to help girls and boys learn about gender equality and speak out for girls rights

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 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.

Donate to support our work protecting girls from FGM

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:

NSPCC: Free, dedicated FGM helpline

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 fgmhelp@nspcc.org.uk

The Dahila Project 

The Dahlia Project is a specialist service for women and girls in the UK who have undergone FGM, and provide therapeutic support groups

National Health Service

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


    Page updated 13 August 2020