Female genital mutilation (FGM) is an extreme form of violence against girls with serious physical, psychological and social consequences. Find out about FGM, what ActionAid are doing to end it, and how you can help.
What is FGM, and how many girls are affected?
FGM, also known as female genital cutting and female circumcision, is a traditional practice that’s been happening for thousands of years.
It can cause severe bleeding, infection, infertility and even death. Afterwards, many girls never return to school, are forced into early marriage and endure years of psychological distress.
Three million girls in Africa are still at risk of FGM each year. That's why ActionAid works in countries where FGM happens, providing funding, education and support to help stamp out the ritual in communities.
What ActionAid does to end FGM
We want a world where FGM is a thing of the past.
Progress is being made: A 2018 study showed the number of girls undergoing FGM has fallen dramatically in east Africa over the past two decades — from 71.4% in 1995, to 8% in 2016.4
But there’s a long way to go to achieve total eradication.
- We provide direct support to women and girls who have escaped FGM.
- We help communities to learn and openly talk about its damaging effects.
- We run youth groups to help boys and girls speak up to end FGM.
- We train women to form Women’s Watch Groups to report cases of FGM.
- We lobby governments to help pass anti-FGM laws.
- We campaign for an end to violence against women globally.
How ActionAid girls' clubs are helping to end FGM
In Kenya, girls like 15-year-old Sharon are learning about their right to say 'no' to FGM through ActionAid-supported girls' clubs and forums.
At the clubs, girls learn about their rights to have control over their own bodies, to stay in school and to chose who, and when, they marry.
Girls are empowered to challenge abuse and develop leadership skills: this ensures that the change doesn’t stop with the girls themselves, but has a positive impact throughout communities.
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.
How local women are putting a stop to FGM
Maria is a former cutter in Kongolai, West Pokot, Kenya. She was cut herself when she was just 12 years old, and years later gave birth to a stillborn baby due to obstructed labour as a result of FGM.
It was after an ActionAid awareness-raising campaign that Maria realised the FGM had been linked to the death of her baby.
She gave up being a cutter, and began sharing her story among local communities to deter parents from cutting their daughters.
Now, Maria works as a birth attendant and refers pregnant women who have undergone FGM to a fully-equipped clinic to give birth, as she knows they may endure complications.
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:
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 FGM.Help@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 5 October 2022