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Female genital mutilation

Modified on 2015/05/14 15:11 by Sean Zheng Paths: Read in Order Categorized as Chapter 2 - Violence against women
Table II.35

From gender issues to statistics on female genital mutilation: illustrative examples

Policy-relevant questions Data needed Sources of data
Is female genital mutilation (FGM) practiced in the country? Is there evidence for the decline of FGM prevalence?



What groups of women are more likely to have undergone FGM?
Women who have undergone FGM by age or within two cohorts (mothers and daughters). Alternatively, statistics for two points in time can be used.

Women who have undergone FGM by age, ethnicity, religion, educational attainment of the mother, urban/rural areas and geographical areas.
Household surveys, such as DHS and MICS.

  • + Gender issues
    • Girls and women face particular health risks as a result of harmful practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM). FGM involves the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The procedure is generally carried out on girls between the ages of 4 and 14; it is also done to infants, women who are about to be married, and, sometimes, to women who are pregnant with their first child or have just given birth. FGM is mostly practiced in African countries and some countries in the Middle East. The proportion of women who have undergone FGM varies greatly across countries where female genital mutilation is practiced, from levels less than one per cent to almost universal coverage of women of reproductive age. Although available data are incomplete, it appears that there have been small decreases in the extent of FGM in recent years. Data also indicate a decline in the average age at which FGM is carried out and a growing tendency for FGM to be carried out by health professionals (UNICEF, 2005).

      The practice of female genital mutilation is rooted in cultural factors, therefore its extent may vary according to various characteristics, such as rural/urban areas, geographical areas, ethnic or religious groups, and education. Within a country, ethnicity appears to have the strongest influence over the incidence of FGM. Other factors are also important. The incidence of FGM is lower in the younger groups of women, although not in the countries with the highest prevalence of FGM. Women with higher education are generally less likely to have their daughters circumcised, though not in all countries (UNICEF, 2005). Women living in urban areas tend to have lower prevalence of FGM compared to their rural counterparts.

  • + Data needed
    • Data used to analyse female genital mutilation are:

      (a) Women who have undergone FGM by current age, age at FGM , type of FGM and type of practitioner who did the cutting;

      (b) Women with at least one daughter who has undergone FGM by current age of the daughter most recently circumcised, age of daughter at FGM , type of FGM and type of practitioner who did the cutting;

      (c) Other statistics on perceptions, reasons and attitudes towards FGM (such as support, benefits, drawbacks, health consequences and rationale for doing female genital mutilation) may be collected.

      Additional breakdowns commonly used for statistics on female genital mutilation are urban/rural areas, geographical areas, ethnicity, religion, educational attainment of the mother and wealth.


  • + Sources of data
    • Household surveys, such as DHS and MICS, are usually used to collect data on female genital mutilation for women of reproductive age and their daughters.

  • + Conceptual and measurement issues
    • Female genital mutilation may be underreported in countries with legislation against FGM. In such cases it is important that questions referring directly to female genital mutilation are avoided, if possible. Alternative questions may be used, specific to each country. For example, in the MICS surveys carried out in Sierra Leone and Liberia, the questions designed to measure FGM referred to “initiation in women-only societies”.

      Age and other information related to FGM may be misreported. For example, recall errors are more frequent in cases where FGM occurred during early childhood. Other errors may be frequent in contexts where FGM involves multiple procedures taking place in different stages of life.

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