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The global movement to end FGM: Promising developments in Sudan & the United Arab Emirates

An illustration of a number of people with their hand outstretched in front of them, with the text FGM/C is global but so is the movement to end it

Female genital mutilation is a global problem and one which requires global action to end it. Research on the existence and prevalence of the practice is critical to the efforts to eradicate the practice. Laws criminalizing FGM provide a cornerstone for national efforts to end the practice. We’ve rounded up significant developments in laws and available data to end FGM over the last few months.  

New Research on Female Genital Mutilation in the United Arab Emirates (UAE)

Earlier, there was only a single study on the existence of FGM in the UAE – a small survey of 100 Emirati women from 2011, which demonstrated that 34% of the women surveyed had undergone FGM. Now, a new research study that surveyed 831 women in Abu Dhabi city has found an FGM prevalence rate of 41.4% amongst the study participants. The study found that the most common type of FGM performed in the UAE was Type 1 (partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the clitoral hood). Significantly, around 72% of the respondents were against the practice of FGM, which bodes well for the future!

This new research demonstrates the need for the Government to put in place comprehensive measures to address FGM. These measures must include:- 

  • investment in national-level data, 
  • enactment of a law to end FGM,
  • and public awareness programs to sensitize the community on the need to end the practice.

Sudan criminalizes female genital mutilation 

Sudan, which has one of the highest prevalence rates of FGM globally, has amended its law to set out penalties for those who subject women and girls to FGM. The new law provides protection for those at risk and gives survivors a means of accessing justice. Earlier, while certain States in Sudan had passed laws against FGM, the criminal penalties for FGM did not apply across the country. 

The criminalization of FGM is an important step on the road to gender equality. Having a specific law against FGM is important because this makes clear that it is a human rights violation and a form of violence against women and girls. Criminalizing FGM can also play a central role in reducing the number of women and girls who are cut. 

However, the law alone will not be sufficient to end FGM in Sudan, where the practice is rooted in gender inequality and deeply embedded in culture and social norms – as it is in other countries where FGM occurs. Thus, it is critical for the Sudanese government to ensure effective enforcement of this groundbreaking law and prosecution of offenders. Enforcement of criminal penalties must also be accompanied by the introduction of sufficiently funded and resourced programs that educate communities about why FGM is harmful. Achieving systemic and lasting change requires altering attitudes and behavior towards women and girls.

Impact of COVID-19

We’re still in the process of determining the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the lived realities of women and girls, including on the practice and prevalence of FGM. The latest analysis from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) shows that the economic and physical disruptions caused by the pandemic could have a significant impact on the efforts to end FGM. UNFPA anticipates that there will be significant delays in programs to end FGM, resulting in an estimated 2 million more cases of FGM over the next decade than would otherwise have occurred. 

As existing situations of gender inequality are exacerbated by the impact of COVID-19, it remains as relevant for governments, donors and civil society to continue to take action to end FGM, including through implementing the key recommendations in our global report.