UNICEF Report Identifies Factors Helping, Hindering Efforts To Drive Down FGM/C In Five African Countries

A report (.pdf) released on Thursday by UNICEF highlights the recent progress made in reducing the practice of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) despite ongoing social pressures to continue the practice in five African countries, Deutsche Presse-Agentur/M&C reports (11/18). “Millions of girls worldwide are cut or mutilated each year,” according to a UNICEF press release (.pdf). “The practice, a serious violation of their human rights, can cause severe, lifelong health problems including bleeding, problems urinating, childbirth complications and newborn deaths,” the release adds (11/18).

To “identify and examine the factors that help or hinder the process towards the abandonment of FGM/C and other harmful practices that are deeply rooted in the customs and traditions of the respective societies,” the study explored the experiences in five African countries – Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Senegal and the Sudan – between 2007-2008, according to the report (UNICEF, 11/18). “Campaigns in these five countries included important members of local communities, such as religious leaders, as well as using more traditional methods through the local media and working with national governments,” Agence France-Presse reports (11/18).

The report revealed “in communities where it is practised, FGM/C is not viewed as a harmful act but as a necessary step to raise a girl and, in many cases, to make her eligible for marriage. Failure to carry out or undergo FGM/C can lead to social exclusion and disapproval not only of the girl but of the entire family,” the release notes. Religion, culture and tradition are also cited by families as reasons for FGM/C, according to UNICEF (11/18).

Though the AFP writes that the report “said that ending practices such as FGM that have been around for centuries is ‘a complex process that takes time,” it also noted ‘[o]ne of the key factors that motivate parents’ decision to have their girls cut – ‘to do what is best for their daughters’ – may also spur a decision to stop the practice.”

AFP continues: “‘Rather than “fighting” against local culture and presenting traditional behaviours as negative, effective programmes propose alternative mechanisms to signal adherence to shared community values,’ the report said” (11/18).

“A family’s decision to practise or abandon FGM/C is influenced by powerful social rewards and sanctions,” Gordon Alexander, of UNICEF said, the BBC reports. “Understanding the diverse social dynamics that perpetuate FGM/C is changing the way in which abandonment is approached. There is no one answer, no one way, and no quick fix. But there is progress. These efforts need to be scaled up to bring change in the lives of girls, now,” Alexander added (11/18).

While “national FGM/C prevalence rates still remain high in Egypt, Ethiopia and the Sudan [despite progress in intervention communities] … There has, however, been a significant change in attitudes about FGM/C in all three countries, indicating that individuals are questioning the merits of these practices and would prefer, circumstances permitting, not to have their daughters, wives, sisters and cousins undergo FGM/C,” the UNICEF press release states (11/18). According to DPA/M&C, “the report did show that the prevalence of genital mutilation among younger women was decreasing. In Egypt in 2008 some 91 percent of Egyptian women aged 15-49 had undergone some sort of mutilation. But the prevalence among women aged 15-17 was 74 percent” (11/18).

The KFF Daily Global Health Policy Report summarized news and information on global health policy from hundreds of sources, from May 2009 through December 2020. All summaries are archived and available via search.

KFF Headquarters: 185 Berry St., Suite 2000, San Francisco, CA 94107 | Phone 650-854-9400
Washington Offices and Barbara Jordan Conference Center: 1330 G Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005 | Phone 202-347-5270

www.kff.org | Email Alerts: kff.org/email | facebook.com/KFF | twitter.com/kff

The independent source for health policy research, polling, and news, KFF is a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, California.