Female Genital Cutting

© 2005 Netsanet Assaye, Courtesy of PhotoshareAn estimated 200 million women and girls who are alive today have undergone female genital cutting (FGC), and 3 million girls are at risk each year. FGC, a traditional practice that involves excision of part or all of the external genitalia - often with unclean sharp instruments such as razor blades or pieces of glass - can have a devastating effect on girls' physical and psychological health.

Female Genital Cutting Threatens Youth Reproductive Health

  • A significant proportion of girls undergo FGC during early adolescence. In Egypt, for example, 43 percent of women circumcised had the procedure between ages 10 and 14.
  • Even if they have been cut as a young child, girls continue to suffer the physical and emotional consequences of the cutting into adolescence and beyond. In particular, the negative health effects of FGC manifest themselves as girls become sexually active and begin to bear children.
  • Young girls are more than just victims of FGC. Young women--and young men--are the next generation of decision makers within the family and community. Thus, they are a prime target for the educational campaigns that aim to eventually eradicate the practice.
  • In addition to being the targets of educational campaigns, young women and men also can be effective as advocates for eliminating the practice.

Key Areas for Policy Action

FGC in general is an active area for policy making, with much of the attention focused on outlawing the practice through legislation. Although banning FGC would certainly have an impact on youth, there are several other key policy actions that specifically focus on young people. These include the following:

  • Recognize the youth dimension of the practice. For example, national action plans for abandonment of FGC should include specific references to young people.
  • Integrate FGC into existing Maternal and Child Health and Adolescent Health and Development policies. Countries need to ensure that existing policies that focus on youth also appropriately address FGC as a reproductive health issue.
  • Encourage a rights-based approach. A focus on the rights of children and young women not to undergo FGC may be more effective than an approach that focuses on the health consequences of the practice.
  • Modify and clarify operational guidelines for health workers. Such guidelines should recognize the medical problems FGC-affected adolescent girls may face when starting their sexual and reproductive lives.
  • Acknowledge the need for youth-focused educational campaigns. For instance, education sector policies should include appropriate policy language on FGC. This might encompass inclusion of FGC as a topic within comprehensive sexuality or life-skills education in the schools.
  • Recognize the youth role as advocates. Policy language should recognize the importance of involving young people in advocacy efforts to eliminate FGC.

The State of Policy-Making

A growing number of countries have taken action to outlaw FGC. However, very few youth-specific FGC policies exist. Experts recognize this as an important gap that countries need to address. Anti-FGC laws are important because without them, it is difficult to upscale interventions to the national level. Such laws and policies provide a positive environment for abandoning the practice. Experience has shown, however, that laws are not a panacea. FGC is deeply rooted in traditions of many communities. Merely outlawing it is unlikely to affect the practice.