Female genital mutilation (FGM) is internationally recognized as a gross violation of human rights, a form of violence against women and girls, and a manifestation of gender inequality.
The global community has committed, through the Sustainable Development Goals (particularly SDG 5.3), to end FGM by 2030, and with less than ten years to go, we are seriously off track. According to UNFPA (2018), if current population trends continue, at least 68 million more girls worldwide will face FGM by 2030, with an increase of the current estimates of 4.1 million girls cut each year to 4.6 million per year by 2030.
Current figures are grossly inadequate
Even these alarming figures are grossly inadequate as they do not take into account, as outlined in our 2020 joint report, FGM/C: A Call for a Global Response, at least 60 countries where there is no national-level prevalence data available. There is growing evidence that FGM takes place across the world, in numerous countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, Europe, and North America, among indigenous and/or diaspora communities.
Indirect estimates, small-scale research surveys, and anecdotal evidence documenting the practice have been produced by survivors of FGM activists, and grassroots organizations who are courageously working to end FGM across the globe.
Efforts to end FGM face monumental challenges
Despite the strong and continuously developing evidence base on the global presence of FGM, levels of awareness among the public and government officials regarding the global nature of the practice of FGM remain low. Activists and groups working to end FGM face monumental challenges in their work, compounded in many cases by the lack of reliable data, insufficient support and funding from the international community, and reluctance of national governments to take action on the issue, particularly in countries which are not traditionally known as FGM practicing countries.
It is widely acknowledged that efforts to end FGM are severely under-resourced and require urgent investment. In addition to increased investment to end FGM in Africa, there is also a need to urgently fund anti-FGM efforts in Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America which currently receive little to no investment. In these regions, several governments do not yet acknowledge (and in some cases even openly deny), the presence of FGM in their countries, thus undermining, and sometimes openly discrediting, the work of local survivors and activists.
What does the law say?
Only 51 countries have laws against FGM across the world. The lack of political will and awareness of the existence of FGM worldwide impacts the availability of protective measures for women and girls who are at risk. Out of the 92 countries with available data on FGM, only 51 have specifically addressed FGM. Officially recognizing FGM as a violation (whether in a standalone anti-FGM law or through specific provisions in existing laws) is arguably the first step to implementing national interventions to eradicate it and protect women and girls. Laws against FGM are most common in the African continent as well as countries where FGM is largely known to be practiced by diaspora communities including in Europe and North America.
Asia and the Middle East lag behind in enacting legal prohibitions against FGM.
What needs to change?
The globalized nature of FGM requires not only a global response but a nuanced one, tailored to meet the particular contours of FGM as it is practiced in different regions, countries, or communities. Better and growing data on the existence and prevalence of FGM, increased investment in efforts to end FGM, effective implementation of laws banning the practice of FGM, and tailored and comprehensive policies and services for survivors are needed in every country where FGM is now known to be present.
Through the SDGs, activists, and countries have made strong public commitments to ending FGM throughout the world by 2030. To achieve this goal, political commitments must now be put into action fully by accelerating and globalizing efforts, collecting and circulating reliable data, and providing the proper funding needed to put in place effective laws, policies, and interventions to eradicate FGM once and for all.
Key Recommendations from our 2020 global report
In order to end FGM, we’re calling on governments, the international community, and donors to:
- Strengthen the global political commitment to eliminating FGM
- Urgently increase resources and investment to end FGM and support survivors
- Strengthen the evidence base through critical research
- Enact and enforce comprehensive laws and national policies
- Improve wellbeing of survivors by providing necessary and critical support and services
What is Equality Now doing?
Equality Now continues to advocate for the end of FGM and hold governments accountable for their obligations under the international, regional, and national laws to promote, protect, respect, and fulfill the human rights of women and girls within their jurisdictions.
We have worked with our partners to circumvent the setbacks brought by the continuing COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that we continue to push state actors to fulfill obligations to address and protect women and girls from FGM.
Equality Now continues to use its platforms to amplify the survivor voices through our online and media platforms and call on governments to be accountable to their obligations. Recent highlights of our work include:
- Highlighting FGM as a global issue: In March 2020, in collaboration with the U.S. End FGM/C Network and the End FGM European Network we released a global report FGM/C: A Call for a Global Response which shone a spotlight on the presence of FGM in over 90 countries around the world. Following on from the release of our report, Equality Now continues to engage in advocacy, media and social media campaigns highlighting the findings and recommendations in the report and calling for a truly global response to address FGM.
- Strategic Litigation: Equality Now has led or contributed to litigation in several countries which aims to hold government accountable to pass a law against FGM or to enforce existing laws and take effective action to end FGM. Recently, Equality Now submitted a brief as the First Interested party in a constitutional petition filed in Kenya which challenged the constitutionality of the anti-FGM law.
- In March 2021, a three-judge bench of the High Court of Kenya upheld and validated the constitutionality of the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act, 2011, advancing the rights of women and girls to a positive cultural context and to protection against harmful practices.
- Equality Now has, along with partners, also filed a case before the ECOWAS Court of Justice challenging Mali’s failure to pass a law against FGM.
- In addition, Equality Now has supported partners in litigation strategy and filings or submitted amicus briefs in anti-FGM cases in various countries, including Burkina Faso and the U.S.
- Advocacy with international and regional human rights mechanisms: Along with partners, Equality Now leverages international and regional mechanisms and opportunities for advocacy. For a full list of submissions made by Equality Now in recent years, please visit our Submissions page.
- Collaborations and Partnerships: Equality Now engages with networks and partners in a number of countries to work together towards ending FGM, including with Solidarity for African Women’s Rights (SOAWR) in Africa. Equality Now is also a member of the U.S. End FGM/C Network and the Asia Network to end FGM/C; and a member of the core group of the Global Platform to end FGM/C.
- Media and Training of Journalists: Equality Now recently developed Reporting on Female Genital Mutilation: A Toolkit for Journalists and Editors, in collaboration with Kenya’s Anti-FGM Board and the Association of Media Women in Kenya, to support media professionals in their efforts to report on FGM. Equality Now has also conducted trainings for journalists in a number of African countries to enable them to report more accurately and sensitively on the issue of FGM.