Female Genital Cutting Continues to Increase Worldwide

More than 230 million women and girls around the world have been circumcised, according to a new analysis from UNICEF. This is an increase of 30 million since the organization’s last global estimate in 2016.

While data shows that in some countries a new generation of parents have chosen to abandon the practice, in others laws and campaigns against it have had no impact. In Burkina Faso, the share of girls aged 15 to 19 who have undergone circumcision has fallen from 82 percent in the past thirty years to 39 percent. But in Somalia, where an estimated 99 percent of women have had their clitoris excised, the level of circumcision has not changed.

Because the countries where this practice is most common are also the countries with the highest population growth, the total number of girls being circumcised is growing every year.

“The total number of women and girls is 15 percent higher than the last estimate,” said Claudia Cappa, an expert on global trends in genital cutting at UNICEF. “The progress made is too slow compared to the growth in the population of girls born every day in the countries most affected.”

The United Nations has set a goal of eliminating female genital cutting by 2030, but the change would have to happen 27 times faster than the current pace to reach that goal, she said.

Some countries that have seen a decline in the prevalence of austerity now see progress under threat as conflict and displacement from climate crises make people increasingly vulnerable and dependent on traditional community structures, such as religious groups, that still endorse the practice.

The new data also highlights the extent to which the practice of cutting occurs worldwide. Although most common in sub-Saharan countries, the practice also remains widespread in parts of the Middle East and Asia and remains a clandestine practice in some immigrant communities in North America and Europe.

According to the report, an estimated 144 million women and girls have been circumcised in Africa (the largest numbers are in Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan), 80 million in Asia and 6 million in the Middle East (more than half of them in Yemen) . new report. In Asia, the majority of cases are in Indonesia, where 55 percent of girls undergo genital mutilation procedures, government figures show.

UNICEF made its calculations based on responses from routine national household surveys in the 31 countries where the practice is more common. In those surveys, women are asked whether they have been circumcised and whether their daughters have been circumcised, and both women and men in households where a woman has been circumcised are asked whether they think the practice should continue.

In Burkina Faso, the country that has seen the sharpest decline, the criminalization of the procedure and strong support from top political figures have helped bring about the change, says Mariam Lamizana, president of an anti-cutting organization called Voix de Femmes in the capital Ouagadougou.

“We worked with religious and traditional leaders and we said, ‘What you are doing in the name of culture, here are the consequences for women, the consequences for little girls,’” said Ms. Lamizana, who led the first national commission. founded by the president to prevent logging. “We felt it was good to involve young religious leaders because they had more education and were more open.”

Nankali Maksud, who is leading UNICEF’s work to end the practice, said most countries that have seen a decline have banned logging. But other strategies that appear to have driven change in some countries don’t seem to work in others, she said.

In Sierra Leone, the proportion of girls aged 15 to 19 who have undergone circumcision has fallen from 95 percent in the past thirty years to 61 percent. The change is partly due to education campaigns, launched by both local and international organizations, about the physical and psychological damage caused by austerity.

But in Somalia, the practice has proven fiercely resistant to attempts at change.

“It’s persistent, it’s constant,” said Dr. Mariam Dahir, a rare public opponent of austerity in Somaliland, a breakaway region in the country’s north.

Dr. Dahir said there has been a campaign by a number of international anti-cutting groups to get religious leaders to endorse a less extreme version of the practice, which involves removing some or all of the clitoral tissue, rather than the traditional practice of completely sewing it shut. the clitoris. labia. The latter increases the likelihood that women will experience health complications as a result of sexual activity or during childbirth. The less extreme option appealed to some parents and was endorsed by a fatwa in 2018 ordering parents to have the procedure performed by a health professional instead of a traditional cutter, she said.

However, she and some other campaigners could not embrace this idea of ​​moderate improvement, she said. “How can we spend decades saying that nothing needs to be cut off from a woman’s body, when there is no religious justification for this practice, and then turn around and say this?” she asked.

She posts Facebook videos calling for a total ban on cutting attract widespread criticism. “At least I know people are hearing the idea,” she said. And that is certainly a change from the past, when it was completely taboo for people to talk about this practice.

The new data shows that there has been a significant shift in a few countries, such as Kenya, where the practice was widespread three decades ago and is now limited to areas of the country where most people come from the Somali ethnic community. One clear trend, says Ms Cappa, the UNICEF adviser, is that changing norms around austerity is easier in countries like Kenya, where the practice is not universal but rather a tradition of some religious or ethnic groups.

“In countries where diversity exists, progress can be faster because communities that practice it are confronted with those who don’t, and they can see that alternatives to their beliefs and their values ​​are possible and can be culturally acceptable. ” she said.

Sadia Hussein has channeled her experience as a cutting survivor into an anti-cutting organization, the Brighter Society Initiative. Working in her home region of northwestern Kenya, she says getting the practice talked about publicly has been crucial in reducing the prevalence of the practice to 9 percent of girls aged 15 to 19, compared to 23 percent three decades ago.

“Men say, ‘Women never told us this is bad, even our women,’” she said. “So I need to build the confidence of survivors to share their own pain, because our society has really conditioned women to endure pain in silence. So I tell them: whatever we have been through, should not happen to our daughters.”

The places where the prevalence of austerity remains highest are also some of the most vulnerable countries, ravaged by conflict or climate disaster, or both. Such circumstances make it more difficult to meet the needs of circumcised girls and to implement prevention policies.

Ms. Hussein said climate change has complicated anti-austerity efforts in her region. Families lose livestock to weather disasters and need money to rebuild their herds, and as a source of money they may seek dowries for young daughters.

“Many girls are mutilated so they can be married off at a young age,” she said. “When there are floods and droughts, we see more and more girls being circumcised.”

The national surveys found that two-thirds of men and women living in households where a woman had been circumcised in Africa and the Middle East said they believed the practice should end. In countries like Djibouti and Sierra Leone, where it is still common, more men than women said they were against it.

Ms Cappa warned that what people say privately in a survey may not match the views they express publicly. Even parents who would like to see an end to the practice may still have their daughters cut out for fear of social consequences, such as the inability to marry, if they did not comply, she said.

“There is doom and gloom in these figures, but you still have young girls and women – and even men – who believe this practice must stop. That is a positive thing,” said Ms. Maksud of UNICEF.

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