Today, February 6, marks the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the practice is prevalent in around 30 countries, mainly in Africa and in the Middle East. It is estimated that more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone one or the other form of genital mutilation in these countries and an estimated 3 million are at risk of undergoing the same.
This inhumane cultural practice stems from the belief that a female's virginity needs to be preserved to make her ‘marriageable’. In some cultures, there is a misconception that the practice is to ensure hygiene. Most girls undergo genital mutilation under 15 years of age.
Medically, there are no such advantages of cutting or removal of a female's external genitalia. FGM often involves the removal or cutting of the labia and clitoris, and the World Health Organization considers it a human rights violation that has deep psychological impacts on the victims.
Here are the stats of some countries that still practice it:
1. Gambia: The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) reports that 78.3% of Gambian girls and women aged between 15 -49 have undergone FGM. Of these, 55% were younger than four at the time of being mutilated; 28% were between five to nine-year-old; and 7% were between the ages 10 and 14.
2. Somalia: The UN reports that 98% of girls and women aged between 15 and 49 in Somalia have undergone various forms of female genital mutilation.
3. Kenya: FGM has been illegal in Kenya since 2011 but the practice continues, with reports estimating that 21% of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 have undergone the cutting.
4. Sierra Leone: The West African Nation Sierra Leone has one of the highest rates of FGM in Africa and the world, with UNICEF estimating that 90% of Sierra Leonean women have been subjected to FGM.
5. Burkina Faso: In 2006, FGM was prevalent in around 72.5% women in Burkina Faso, according to WHO. As of 2018, UNICEF's latest data, from 2010, confirms only 13% of girls aged 0 to 14 had been subjected to FGM, while 76% of females aged 15 to 49 had so. The prevalence varies with religion in Burkina Faso. FGM is prevalent in 82% of Muslim women, 73% of traditional religions, 66% of Roman Catholics and 60% of Protestants.
While, FGM is concentrated in 30 countries in Africa and the Middle East, it is also practiced in some countries in Asia and Latin America and amongst immigrant populations living in Western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand.