We work with grassroots activists and practising communities across Africa to reduce rates of female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C).
Support to the Africa-Led Movement to End FGM/C
'Support to the Africa-Led Movement to End FGM/C' (ALM) is a UK-government funded programme designed to significantly reduce the preval...
Amref Health Africa is committed to the Sustainable Development Goal of ending female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C) by 2030. We work in partnership with grassroots activists and practising communities across Africa to reduce rates of FGM/C and defend a girl’s right to define her own future.
What is FGM/C?
Female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C) is an umbrella term grouping together a range of procedures involving “the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”, according to the World Health Organization.
FGM/C is a violation of a girl’s or woman’s human rights. It is extremely painful and has no health benefits. In fact, its impact on survivors’ physical and mental well-being can be devastating, and life-long. FGM/C can cause severe bleeding, infection, pain during sex, and complications during childbirth. In some cases, it is fatal.
Why is it practised?
FGM/C can be practised for cultural, social, or religious reasons (although it pre-dates the major faiths and no religion requires it). It is often a reflection of the way a community views and values girls and women – and it is a way of controlling female sexuality by taking the pleasure out of sex.
In some cultures, FGM/C comes with economic benefits for a girl’s family: when a girl is cut, she is considered ready for marriage and motherhood; when she is married, the family receives a dowry. For this reason, FGM/C is linked to child, early and forced marriage (i.e. marriage before the age of 18 and / or when a girl is married without giving consent), as well as early pregnancy.
For most practising communities, FGM/C is a centuries-old tradition, so deeply rooted that it can be hard to remember when or why it began. This is why efforts to end FGM/C must start by unpacking what the practice has come to mean to each community.
I loved my family. I loved my people. But this, I thought, was wrong.
Tradition can be good. Tradition can be beautiful. But some traditions deserve to die.
Where is it practised?
FGM/C is known to be practised in more than 90 countries – including 30 countries across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East – as well as by diaspora communities in Europe, the Americas, and Australia.
In Africa, FGM/C is known to be practised in 28 countries. It’s important to note that there can be significant variation within each country and from one community to another.
Who is at risk?
It is estimated that around four million girls are at risk of being cut every year.
Some 200 million women and girls who are alive today have already undergone FGM/C.* The majority of them live in Africa, or are of African heritage.
Most girls are cut before they turn 15. In many cultures, FGM/C marks the transition from girlhood to womanhood. A girl is cut in early adolescence, and is then considered ready to be married and start a family. This often represents the end of her education. In other communities, FGM/C is practised on much younger children: sometimes at birth.
In both cases, the impact of ‘the cut’ on survivors’ physical and mental well-being can be devastating, and life-long.
* This is a conservative estimate based on data reported by 32 countries that measure and report on the practice; in reality, FGM/C is practised in 90 countries, so the real figure is likely to be much higher.
What is Amref Health Africa doing to help?
Amref Health Africa is committed to the Sustainable Development Goal of ending FGM/C by 2030. We work in partnership with grassroots activists and practising communities across Africa to reduce rates of FGM/C and defend a girl’s right to define her own future.
The reasons FGM/C is practised vary from one community to another, and efforts to end the practice must be tailored to reflect those reasons. An approach that has proven effective with Maasai communities living on either side of the border between Kenya and Tanzania might not be appropriate in southern Senegal. That’s why Amref Health Africa starts by listening to communities to understand what FGM/C means to them; only then can we begin to find a path towards ending the practice.
For more than a decade, Amref Health Africa has worked with Maasai communities in Kenya and Tanzania to abandon the practice. (Maasai girls tend to be cut between the ages of 8 and 11, and are then considered ready for marriage and motherhood.) Together, we developed the ‘Community-Led Alternative Rites of Passage’ model. The ‘Alternative Rite of Passage’ retains the cultural significance of FGM/C without the physical or psychological damage of the cut, celebrating the transition into womanhood without inflicting harm.
Who is award-winning activist Nice Leng'ete?
Amref Health Africa's Global End-FGM/C Advisor, Nice Nailantei Leng'ete, is not just a leader of the future: at just 30 years old, she's already changing the lives of girls and young women across the continent, and inspiring a generation to chase their own dreams.Read her story
"Change is only possible when it comes from the community itself."
Nice Leng'ete explains what's unique about our approach to ending FGM/C - and what drives her work with Maasai communities like her own.
An independent evaluation conducted in 2020 found that the ‘Community-Led Alternative Rites of Passage’ model had contributed to a 24% reduction in cases of FGM/C in Kajiado County, Kenya, over a ten-year period. Building on that track record, we later extended our work to Ethiopia, Senegal, and Uganda: countries where we have had a permanent presence for many years.
Amref also undertakes research and advocacy work related to FGM/C, aiming to give added momentum to global efforts to end the practice.
Is the situation improving?
Increasingly, FGM/C is illegal in the countries where it is practised. Legal frameworks are important; however, because FGM/C is so culturally significant, change doesn’t happen overnight. It often takes years before a community is ready for change: and that change won’t be meaningful, or sustainable, unless the whole community is on board, from girls’ parents to the young men they are likely to marry; and from community and religious leaders to the cutters that often double as birth attendants.
Globally, rates of FGM/C were declining before the COVID-19 pandemic began in the spring of 2020. Since then, positive trends in many countries have reversed. It is estimated that as a direct result of COVID-related movement restrictions, school closures, and economic pressures, an additional two million girls – many of them living in Africa – are at risk of being cut in the next decade.
In response to the increased threat, Amref Health Africa’s teams have adapted their ways of working, using community radio stations, text and WhatsApp messaging, and door-to-door visits to continue raising awareness.
Efforts to end FGM/C are more urgent than ever.
Researchers from Amref examined the impact of COVID-19 on rates of FGM/C and child, early and forced marriage (CEFM) in Ethiopia, Kenya, Senegal, and Uganda. They found that “the pandemic has negatively affected implementation of interventions […] that are responsible for preventing and responding to FGM/C and CEFM”.