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FRANCE: Female genital mutilation – ‘Women circumcise little girls for men’

Female genital mutilation: ‘Women circumcise little girls for men’

France 24 (06.02.2023) – In France, nearly 125,000 women have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM). The fight against this practice has led to the creation of psychological and surgical care over the last 40 years but the subject remains taboo. FRANCE 24 provides an overview of the situation on the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, February 6.

Excision: The cutting or removal of some or all of the external female genitaliaher clitoris, her inner labia. “Cutting is a form of violence committed against little girls. It is one of the most serious types of sexual violence,” says Dr Ghada Hatem, an obstetrician-gynaecologist, in front of a crowded room at Hospital Delafontaine in the French suburb Seine-Saint-Denis. The practice, which some describe as “traditional”, “religious” or even “mandatory”, is difficult to eradicate, including in France, where it is nevertheless punishable by law.

Diaryatou Bah was circumcised when she was 8 years old in Guinea Conakry where she lived before coming to France: “It happened one morning. A woman came and took me outside. I found myself surrounded by aunts, neighbours and my grandmother. Two held my feet while two others help my hands. They covered my face with leaves. No one explained what was going to happen to me.” 

The founder of the “Espoirs et combats de femmes” (“Hopes and dreams of women”) association and author of the book “They stole my childhood from me”,  Bah remembers certain details vividly.

“I’ll never forget the knife and the feeling when the woman cut me. My own scream. I am 37 and I still remember the details. I knew I was going to endure the procedure one day because it was what every little girl went through; that was the ritual. All the women in my family have undergone the practice.” 

What followed was “indescribable pain and three weeks without being able to walk”. She took a long time to understand her experience, she says.

“Until the age of 20, I thought all the women in the world went through the same procedure.”

Risk of FGM increased by Covid pandemic, war in Ukraine

Bah’s story is similar to the one shared by millions of little girls in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Out of the 200 million women who have been victims of FGM worldwide, 125,000 who have undergone the procedure live in France, according to statistics published by the Weekly Epidemiological Bulletin (BEH) in July 2019. The overall number of victims could even be revised upwards, according to projections by the United Nations.

The Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine account for the increasing number of women suffering FGM. “In Africa, some circumcisers have begun to re-adopt the ritual. Families do not have enough to eat, schools are being closed and the solution is to marry off their daughters,” says Isabelle Gillette-Faye, sociologist and director of GAMS (Group for the Abolition of Sexual Mutilation, Forced Marriage and other traditional practices harmful to the health of women and children).  Globally, she adds, we have gone from a risk of 2 million victims of FGM per year to 3 or 4 million by 2030.

Despite the gloomy predictions, and even if she says it is necessary to remain “attentive”, Gillette-Faye prefers to concentrate on the achievements of 40 years of prevention and education. In France, the first cases of FGM appeared at the end of the 1970s. Men from Sub-Saharan Africa who had come to France to work also brought their wives. Paediatricians from the Maternal and Infant Protection (PMI) service discovered the first mutilated girls during medical examinations. In 1982, a three-month-old girl died in hospital in Paris following an excision. A wave of shock rippled across France. The little girl’s doctors filed a civil action lawsuit.

At the time, even though excision was not mentioned, FGM was considered a crime punishable by 10 years in prison and a €150,000 fine, according to article 222-9 of the penal code. The law applies whether or not FGM took place in France or during a vacation in the country of origin, as long as the victims live on French soil.

“Families find it difficult to understand that the law applies in France even if they have their children circumcised outside the national territory and regardless of their nationality,” says Gillette-Faye.

Since the 1980s, nearly 30 circumcisers or parents of mutilated girls have been put on trial in France. In April 2022, a 39-year-old mother received a five-year suspended prison sentence for the excision of her three oldest daughters, including one who is mentally handicapped, between 2007 and 2013. The procedures took place during the girls’ visits to their grandmother in Djibouti, a country where FGM has been banned since 1995.

“Up until then, we had only been talking about West Africa. We discovered that families from East Africa could be judged, condemned and owe damages to their children for having practiced FGM even if the procedure took place outside the national territory,” says Gillette-Faye, who attended the trial.

Silence prevails

What accounts for the persistence of this tradition despite the laws against it?

For uprooted families, perpetuating this tradition allows them to cling to their cultural identity.

“Many use the religious argument that it is written in the Koran,” says Dr Ghada Hatem, also founder of La Maison des femmes (The House for Women) in the Parisian suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis. She adds that the practice does not exist in any of the books of the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. There is also the fantasy that a “pure” woman is an excised woman, that it increases fertility and that the child has a better chance of being born alive.

As for the taboo about openly discussing FGM, it is almost omnipresent within the family and the community of origin. “In the community silence prevails, as always in the case of violence, guaranteeing that the practice will be maintained,” says Hatem. “Girls are excised without an explanation. Over there [in the country of origin], what is not normal is an uncircumcised girl. She is seen as impure and above all, she will not be able to marry. In order for her to remain a virgin until marriage, she must be circumcised,” confirms Bah.

Sometimes these women are unaware of their excision. “I see women on a daily or at least weekly basis who have undergone FGM. Some of them do not even know they have had it,” says Agathe André, a midwife at a public hospital in Nanterre, near Paris. “There is no easy way to say it but it is important that we inform them, especially when they give birth to a little girl. They will potentially return to their country of origin and they must be made aware that in France, the practice is forbidden.”

“Many women don’t know if they are excised because they were in the cradle when they went through the procedure,” says Gillette-Faye. Very often, they only discover what happened to them during a visit with their gynaecologist or sometimes during childbirth. “I have patients who were very angry. Some had given birth four times in France and no one ever told them anything,” says Hatem.

Do some doctors and women stick their head in the sand when it comes to FGM? Certainly. Fear also plays a role. As with other cases of violence against women, doctors must measure their words in order not to accentuate or awaken sometimes buried trauma. “If you approach the subject in an inappropriate, humiliating or critical way, you will do a lot of harm to the young woman you’re dealing with,” says Hatem, who trains health workers in best practices.

“As soon as you start talking about ‘normal’ vulvas, you do damage,” adds Gillette-Faye, speaking from her own experience and also referring to reconstructed genitals seen in pornographic films. “It’s a form of aggression against mutilated women who already have a tendency to beat themselves up because they tell themselves that they are not normal.” 

For Hatem, a victim expects above all that “you explain to her what FGM is, what has been done to her, the consequences, if she can live normally and what you can offer her”.

Repairing lives

Victims sometimes suffer silently for many years. FGM can lead to sexual problems such as a lack of desire and/or pleasure, and shame. The trauma runs deep. Excision, forced marriage, rape, abuse – “The average fate of a little girl in Sub-Saharan Africa is often a continuum of violence,” says Hatem.

To help them rebuild their lives, repairing the anatomy of FGM victims is possible. In 1984, Dr Pierre Foldès, an urological surgeon and co-founder of Doctors without Borders, developed the only surgical method to repair the clitoris. “Everything is absolutely repairable…,” says Foldès. “The technique is reliable and there is an extremely low failure rate.”

The traditional circumcisers do not cut everything. “There is scarring that hides what remains of the clitoral glans. The technique consists of finding all these dead parts and gently removing them,” Foldès explains. “In this process, the clitoral stump is pulled upwards by the scarring and the pubic bone. When these abnormal adhesions are removed, the clitoris will descend and reposition itself normally.”

In 35 years, Foldès has performed reconstructive surgery on 6,000 women and his waiting room is always full. The victims sometimes come from very far away. And they’re ready to wait as long as it takes for an appointment.

All eyes on men

Having surgery is far from the end of the ordeal. “The goal is not to restore the clitoris but to restore normal sexuality,” says Foldès, who also helped found Women Safe & Children, the first care centre to provide full recovery for women victims of violence, in the Paris suburb of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. “We must consider all aspects of the trauma, treat each and accompany the victims throughout. If we operate, we have to accompany the patient for two years. We will treat the patient, teach her how to live with a normal organ and try to rebuild her sexual life. When you take time, the healing process works better.”

Repairing a woman’s mutilated genitals without repairing her mental health inevitably leads to failure. “Some women are disappointed because they do not see any improvement. Often, it is because their healing process is not optimal,” says Foldès. “Some women’s condition deteriorated after their operation…,” says Gillette-Faye. “Sometimes they skip steps and go to a plastic surgeon. There is a real market for cosmetic surgery. At GAMS, we have chosen to promote global care.”

To help eradicate FGM, all eyes are now on men. In Belgium, GAMS has launched awareness campaigns called “Men speak out”.

In France, the national federation also works with the association Femmes Entraide et Autonomie (FEA) (Mutual aid and autonomy for Women).

“We have to leave behind the notion that this is a women’s problem and that men don’t have to be involved,” says Gillette-Faye.

“We need to involve men so that they say ‘I will not marry a woman who has been circumcised’,” says Hatem. “Women circumcise little girls for men. If men say no, they will stop getting circumcised.” 

Photo credits: Studio graphique FMM

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RUSSIA: Female genital mutilation, a hidden issue in Dagestan

Female genital mutilation in Dagestan

Призыв к партнерству: У нашей НПО есть проект по публикации статей о правах человека в России на английском и русском языках для охвата российских граждан. Организации, имеющие сайт, ориентированный на российское общество, могут связаться с нами по адресу international.secretariat.brussels@hrwf.org. Форма заявки будет выслана. Публикация статей будет оплачена.

HRWF (13.09.2022) – On 30 August 2022, a number of courageous Russian civil organizations published an 88-page report about the situation of human rights in rights for the OSCE Moscow Mechanism. Concerning FGM, they highlighted reports published by two researchers:

  • Yulia Antonova is a lawyer cooperating with the Legal Initiative Project
  • Saida Sirazhudinova – Candidate of Political Sciences, President of the Center for Research of Global Issues of Modernity and Regional Problems “Caucasus. Peace. Development.”

Report in 2016: The practice of genital mutilation on girls/ Report on qualitative research in the Republic of Dagestan

In 2016, the Legal Initiative project published a study on the practice of female genital mutilation in Russia, based on field studies conducted in nine high-altitude areas of Dagestan, where circumcision is mainly carried out for girls under the age of three at home using conventional household tools such as knives or scissors. The report, which is only accessible in Russian, also states that the purpose of this procedure was to monitor female sexuality and behavior.

Second report in 2018: The practice of female genital mutilation in Dagestan

In 2018, a second study by the same researchers was published, which indicated that the minimum number of female genital mutilation in Dagestan is estimated   at minimum 1,240 girls per year.” It is accessible in Russian and in English (with the automatic translation)

The purpose of their report was quite practical – to draw attention to the problem of female genital mutilation and joint actions of interested persons and organizations to contribute to its elimination as much as possible.

In their presentation, they were saying:

“Female genital mutilation is a problem in some parts of Dagestan that has long been without any attention from the official authorities, the human rights community, public discussion and condemnation. Press publications that have appeared in the past year have demonstrated the secrecy of this tradition, and the reaction to it has shown that the public assesses the legitimacy of female genital mutilation extremely ambiguously. Opinions were divided from deeply unacceptive to condescendingly justifying or even justifying its necessity. In Dagestan, most of society is still not ready to recognize the existence of this problem, and the lack of any reliable and evidence-based information on the prevalence and forms of maiming operations requires closer attention and comprehensive study.

To achieve this goal, we have set the following objectives: to study the perception of the practice of mutilation by different groups of respondents, to study the prevalence of this practice, to determine the origins and justification for female mutilation, to show the consequences of female circumcision in Dagestan.”

Third report in 2018: Mutilation practices in the North Caucasus republics: Strategies for overcoming them

The main purpose of this report, only accessible in Russian, was to draw the attention of officials and individuals to the problem of maiming operations in the region, to help eradicate practices and protect girls from the risk of becoming a victim of harmful practices in the future.

Objectives of this report:

– to conduct a qualitative study in the republics of the North Caucasus, to study men’s awareness of FGM, their attitude to practice, men’s willingness to support FGM, the impact of operations on the quality of relations (sex) with wives, men’s right to vote in decision-making on the commission of FGM over daughters and many other points;

– to analyze effective strategies taken by different countries over the past 30-40 years to eradicate and reduce the practice of FGM;

– to evaluate the results of the first report, which was published in 2016 and caused public discussion and polarization of public opinions in Russia.

– to provide an overview of the changes that took place from 2016 to 2018 in international law to combat FGM practices in the world.

After this report, the authors concluded:

“Since the publication of the first report, no steps have been taken to intervene, assess and change the situation of FGM in Dagestan.

Girls continue to perform operations for non-medical purposes and outside medical institutions to remove all or partially the clitoris or damage it by means of an incision or notch with a knife, scissors, blades, needles or other available tools in unsanitary artisanal conditions.

This practice continues to be reproduced in conditions of tacit consent, as well as in systematic disregard by official structures of the need to take any measures against this practice and for the protection of the integrity and the right of girls not to be exposed to violence by close relatives.”

Credit: Stichting Justice Initiative

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FRANCE: Trial of female circumcision: a mother sentenced

Trial of female circumcision: a mother sentenced

The court has decided: the law takes precedence over tradition.

TV5 Monde (05.04.2022) – https://bit.ly/3xjxjFH Jurors and magistrates have decided: the law takes precedence over tradition. In Le Mans, a mother was given a five-year suspended sentence for circumcising her three eldest daughters during trips to Djibouti. Sociologist Isabelle Gillette-Faye, a specialist in excision, sheds light on the issues of this trial.


On March 30 and 31, 2022, a mother of seven children appeared before the Assize Court of Sarthe, in west-central France, for “complicity in violence against minors under the age of 15 followed by mutilation or permanent infirmity”. In concrete terms, she is accused of having her three eldest daughters undergo excision. However, this female mutilation is strictly prohibited and punishable, in France, by fifteen years of imprisonment – in Djibouti too, excision has been prohibited since 1995. This trial is the first in ten years in France after that of Nevers in 2012.

Excised in Djibouti

If Nevers’ trial tried parents who had excised their girls in precarious conditions, at their home in France, the 39-year-old woman tried in Le Mans had her three eldest daughters excised in 2007 and 2013, during stays with their grandmother in Djibouti, her country of origin. The little ones were then 4, 5 and 7 years old.

In France, the eldest girl, who has a mental disability, is followed in a socio-educational center. Upon her return from the trip to Djibouti undertaken by the family in 2013, she explained to her educators that she has “no darling, no zizizi” by showing the genital area. His drawings depict children crying tears of blood.

Alerted, the socio-educational team issued a “notice of concern”, in accordance with the reporting procedure. This resulted in a medical examination that confirmed the girl and her two sisters had undergone genital mutilation. “This time, and this is not always the case, the magistrate in charge of the case went to the end, to the trial in assizes,” noted Isabelle Gillette-Faye.

An exemplary trial

The sociologist, who is the Director of the National Federation GAMS (Group for the Abolition of Sexual Mutilation, Forced Marriage and other traditional practices harmful to the health of women and children), attended part of the trial as an expert witness, at the request of the court. She explained the ins and outs of an excision and contextualized the facts committed by the mother. “I was there to shed light on people, jurors or assessors, who are not used to being confronted with this kind of case,” she explained, stressing the attitude of stakeholders: “very attentive and eager to do well, to understand without judging. How can a mother do this to her daughters? Why do girls themselves continue to trivialize an act that could, and can still have had dramatic consequences?”

The accused humiliated in her good faith

Isabelle Gillette-Faye, found the mother “very worthy, who says she understood that excision is prohibited by law.” The sociologist has another deciphering of the accused’s thought: “I believe that she remains convinced that it is a religious necessity (Editor’s note: the mother is Muslim) and that she does not understand why she is prevented from doing so.” However, since 2015, the mother has had four other children. “She didn’t touch any of them, girls and boys. So she seems to have understood the ban, but not the why,” analyzes Isabelle Gillette-Faye.

“Throughout the trial,” said Isabelle Gillette-Faye, “the mother of the three young excised women wanted to convince that the infibulation she herself suffered in her childhood (total or almost total excision, female genital mutilation type 3) did not have any harmful consequences on her life as a woman”: “She assures that her sexuality remained perfect, that her deliveries went very well,” reported the sociologist.

In addition, the accused argued that she brought a nurse home so that her daughters’ excisions take place in the best hygienic conditions and that their excisions were relatively minimally invasive – female genital mutilation type 1. “She thinks she behaved like a good Djiboutian mother and does not understand why the sky falls on her head.

In fact, when the verdict was read, the accused collapsed into tears. Surprised by this reaction, Isabelle Gillette-Faye said: “It is extremely rare that this kind of woman expresses her emotions in public so intimately. This says a lot about the humiliation she felt for being convicted for an act she considers normal.” Disgrace is all the more cunchy for the mother as she will now be under surveillance to dissuade her from touching her youngest children and that socio-educational follow-up will probably be imposed on her older children.

Victims in denial

The girls, the victims, did not attend the trial. The older one, disabled, must remain under protection. As for the two younger ones, “they are in total denial of what happened to them,” explained Isabelle Gillette-Faye. They consider that this trial of their mother was wrong and spoke of their excisions as something normal. They did everything to exonerate their mother, so that she was not convicted. “Denial is a fairly classic reaction for children who are victims of violence and abuse,” said the sociologist.

What about the fathers?

The late father of the victims was, according to the accused, not aware of the intervention suffered by his three daughters during their stay in Djibouti. He was certainly not present, according to Isabelle Gillette-Faye, but he must have been aware of it: “We had to pay for these interventions. Especially since in Djibouti, dowries are very high, and the only way for a father to monetize his daughters to a Djiboutian for an amount as high as he himself had to pay for his wife was that they be excised before marriage.”

A Djiboutian family condemned

In the eyes of Isabelle Gillette-Faye, the origin of the accused is an important point in this Le Mans trial, because it is the first time that a Djiboutian family has been convicted.

However, France is facing the arrival of populations in East Africa who have not been made aware of the ban of female genital mutilation unlike West African migrants. “This verdict is an excellent reminder,” said the sociologist, “especially since the Djiboutian community is relatively large in the Le Mans region, and the shock wave of the trial will remind everyone that France, like Djibouti, prohibits female circumcision.”

Also read in Earthlings:

► United Kingdom: historic condemnation of a mother for excising her daughter
► “Minimum” excisions proposed by two American gynecologists
► How to fight excision despite the Covid pandemic?
► In Kenya, Nice Nailantei Leng’ete has been campaigning against female circumcision since the age of 8
► Covid-19: 2 million more excisions are to be feared within 10 years
► Confinement and after Covid-19: the risk of excision on the rise, associations give the alert
► Female genital mutilation: Sudan criminalizes female circumcision
► World Day Against Excision: for Jaha Dukureh, “Laws are not enough”
► Deadly excision in Egypt: parents of a little girl arrested

► In Senegal, the fight against excision requires patience, one village after another
► Fara Djiba Kamano: “men must promote the abandonment of female circumcision”
► “I Cut”: in Kenya, high school girls invent an anti-excision application

On The Same Theme

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SOMALIA: Daughters of Somalia campaign to end female genital mutilation

Daughters of Somalia campaign to end female genital mutilation


UN (04.02.2022) – https://bit.ly/3HyfvbZ – In Somalia, over 90 per cent or more of girls and women, have been subjected to female genital mutilation, or FGM. Despite the practice having devastating health ramifications for women and girls – including pain, bleeding, permanent disability and even death – discussion over how to end the harmful tradition, remains taboo.


The United Nations has called for collaboration at all levels, and across all sectors of society across the world, to protect millions at risk from FGM every year.


As the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation is marked on 6 February, the UN sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA, continues to lead the UN effort to end FGM.


Dear Daughters


Last fall, and in collaboration with the Ifrah Foundation, the UN agency launched the Dear Daughter campaign, as part of the effort to end FGM once and for all. The idea is to get individual parents not to cut their daughters. Through letter-writing, they pledge instead, to protect them, and support their right to govern their own bodies.


‘Dear Daughter’ works towards ending FGM in Somalia, which has one of the highest prevalence rates of the practice in the world. To date, 100 Somali mothers have signed the pledge.


By targeting rural and urban individuals and communities, that are making an extraordinary commitment, to change the FGM narrative. For Nkiru I. Igbokwe, gender-based violence specialist at UNFPA in Somalia, it is “accelerating the voices of women and men alike, to end FGM in the country”.


As part of the campaign, women living in an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp on the outskirts of the capital Mogadishu – home to 280 households that fled Danunay village nearly 250 kilometres away, due to insurgent violence – have been learning about the harmful effects of FGM.


Halima*, 50, a mother of five daughters and five sons, was among them. As a camp gatekeeper and a community member with influence, she was identified as someone who could advocate to help end the harmful practice that she and her first daughter had also endured.




Like so many other women in her community, Halima underwent FGM as a child, subjecting her to lifelong health problems.


“The procedure was painful, with no anesthesia. I bled for days,” she recalled. “I was in bed for more than three months and urinating was a problem”.


When Halima reached adolescence, passing menstrual blood was also difficult, and as a newlywed, sex with her husband was a painful experience. When she became an expectant mother, childbirth was excruciating with labour lasting for days, putting her life at risk.


Despite her suffering, Halima allowed her first daughter to be cut, just like her mother had done.


‘She felt the pain’


“My daughter underwent the Sunna type of FGM (removal of part or all of the clitoris), and she felt the pain I have been through,” Halima said. But because it was not the more severe ‘pharaonic’ procedure (stitching the opening closed), people insulted them, she said, saying her daughter was unclean. 


The World Health Organization (WHO) is opposed to all types of FGM and is opposed to health care providers performing FGM.


“Throughout the training course, I had flashback memories of how the practice has badly impacted my life,” she said. 


Three years ago, a young girl in the same camp died as a result of FGM, and Halima started galvanizing the community, to try and make sure the tragedy is never repeated.


Changing the future for Somali girls


The Ifrah Foundation, together with the Global Media Campaign to End FGM, distributed UNFPA-supplied radio transmitters to 100 households so residents could listen to awareness campaigns and information.


“It has been a long-standing dream of mine to work to save girls from the unnecessary pain and suffering I endured as a result of FGM,” said survivor Ifrah Ahmed, founder of the foundation that bears her name. “Halima is an example of how we can change the future for all Somali girls”, she added.


Halima’s advocacy has expanded beyond FGM. She encourages pregnant and lactating mothers to visit health centres and raises awareness over sexual and gender-based violence.


She also notes that community members used to stay silent about rape due to fear of stigmatization, but now they seek help.


According to UNFPA, because of her leadership, almost 100 mothers have pledged not to practice female genital mutilation, sparing about 200 girls in the settlement.


“I don’t want my other daughters and other young girls to go through the pain we have gone through,” Halima said.


The numbers across the world


According to WHO, more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, where FGM is practiced.


Only in Somalia, based on the 2020 Somali Health and Demographic Survey, 99 per cent of women aged 15 to 49 in Somalia, have been subjected to FGM, the majority between ages five and nine. The survey also reports that 72 per cent of women believe it is an Islamic requirement, though some religious leaders have said Islam actually condemns it.

In 2020, UNFPA provided 52,225 Somali women and girls protection, prevention or care services related to female genital mutilation. While there is no national legislation outlawing the practice, Puntland state passed a FGM Zero Tolerance Bill last year. 


This year, WHO will launch a training manual on person-centered communication, a counselling approach that encourages health care providers to challenge their FGM-related attitudes, and build their communication skills to effectively provide FGM prevention counselling.


COVID-19 challenges


The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the risk of female genital mutilation continuing unfettered, with the UN predicting than an additional two million girls will be victimized in the next ten years.


Prolonged school closures have provided cover for girls recovering from FGM. In addition, movement restrictions have prevented campaigners against FGM from accessing some villages.


Photo credits: UNFPA Somalia/Tobin Jones

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EU: International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation

International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM

EU Delegation to the UN in Geneva (04.02.2022) – https://bit.ly/3sgkszY – Ahead of the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, 6 February 2022, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission Josep Borrell Fontelles, Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová, Vice-President for Democracy and Demography, Dubravka Šuica, Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, and Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen, joined together to reaffirm the EU’s strong commitment to eradicate female genital mutilation worldwide and made the following statement:


“Ahead of the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, 6 February 2022, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission Josep Borrell Fontelles, Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová, Vice-President for Democracy and Demography, Dubravka Šuica, Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, and Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen, joined together to reaffirm the EU’s strong commitment to eradicate female genital mutilation worldwide and made the following statement:


“Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a crime and a violation of women’s human rights. We must stop it. 


There is no justification for such a horrific practice. There are, however, very serious negative consequences that affect the physical and mental health of women and girls, including infections, infertility and chronic pain. This practice puts the lives and wellbeing of thousands of women and girls at risk and in some cases it can even lead to their death.


While many communities have abandoned FGM and cultural norms are changing, leading to a decrease in FGM, the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed progress towards its eradication. In times of confinement, maintaining access to prevention, protection and care services remain more important than ever. 


Ending all forms of gender-based violence, including FGM, is at the heart of EU equality policies. Since the start of this Commission’s mandate, we stepped up our actions in Europe and globally with the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020-2024, the EU Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025 and the EU Gender Action Plan III. We presented a comprehensive Strategy on the Rights of the Child, which also sought to put an end to violence against children, including FGM. This year, we will present a legislative proposal to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence, as well as a recommendation on the prevention of harmful practices. 

We cannot tolerate violence against women and girls.”




Female genital mutilation comprises all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons, as defined by the World Health Organization. FGM is a worldwide issue, which exists in Europe too.  It is estimated that 180,000 girls in 13 European countries alone are at risk of being mutilated while 600,000 women are living with the consequences of FGM(link is external) in Europe. FGM is carried out erroneously for a variety of cultural, religious or social reasons on young girls between infancy and 15 years of age. FGM constitutes a form of child abuse and violence against women; it has severe short- and long-term physical and psychological consequences.


Criminalisation of FGM is required under the Council of Europe Convention(link is external) on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. The Convention is signed by all EU Member States and has been ratified by 21 Member States so far. The Commission has been working together with the Council towards the EU’s accession to the Convention. The Commission will put forward a proposal to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence, as well as a specific Recommendation on the prevention of harmful practices.


In addition, through the Citizens, Equality, Rights and Values Programme (CERV), funding will continue to be provided to Member States’ and civil society-led projects tackling gender-based violence, including FGM. Under the 2021 DAPHNE call for proposals, 40 projects were awarded to be funded with a budget of €17.7 million. The Commission published a new call for proposals with a budget of €30.5 million, open until 12 April 2022, which specifically includes a priority dedicated to combating and preventing violence linked to harmful practices. Currently, with EU funding the CHAIN project is strengthening the prevention, protection and support for victims of FGM and early and forced marriage through, through training, capacity building and awareness raising activities in Germany, Spain, France, Italy and Belgium.


The 1989 UN Convention on the rights of the child(link is external), to which all EU Member States are party, also condemns FGM as a form of violence against girls. In 2021, the Commission presented a comprehensive EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child, which contains concrete actions and recommendations on how to effectively prevent and put an end to violence against children, including FGM.


In the context of external action and development cooperation, ending FGM continues to be a key action under the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020-2024 and the EU Gender Action Plan 2021-2025. This is reflected in political dialogues as well as concrete actions, for example, through the support to thUNFPA/UNICEF Global Joint Programme on the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation(link is external) through the Spotlight Africa Regional Programme(link is external), which dedicated €7.5 million to tackling the practice in 17 partner countries. Despite the restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, around 650,000 women and girls were provided with gender-based violence services, including support to the prevention of harmful practices. The EU also supports projects addressing FGM at country level through its European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR). For example, in Somalia, the EU supports the empowerment of CSOs to lobby and advocate for FGM policy adoption; in Sudan, the EU supports the legislative reform for the abandonment of FGM in rural communities.


The New Pact on Migration and Asylum put forward by the Commission in September 2020 aims to reinforce the protection safeguards available to persons with specific needs, in particular, female applicants who have experienced gender-based harm. This includes ensuring access to medical care, legal support, appropriate trauma counselling and psycho-social care at different stages of the asylum procedure.


For More Information


To find out more about female genital mutilation and what the European Union is doing to eliminate this practice, see website.


Myth-Busting Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

Research from the European Institute for Gender Equality estimating the number of girls at risk of female genital mutilation in Denmark, Spain, Luxembourg and Austria: FGM study: More girls at risk but community opposition growing (2021)


Watch this video (link is external) from Commissioner Dalli and MEPs Evelyn Regner and Assita Kanko on Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilations.”


Photo credits:  BBC News

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