Female genital mutilation

Female genital mutilation

According to the World Health Organisation, female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” A harmful practice with no health benefits, FGM can cause long-lasting physical, emotional and psychological trauma; and in some cases, death.

Female genital mutilation is classified into four major types:

  • Type 1– Clitoridectomy: partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
  • Type 2 – Excision: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (the labia are “the lips” that surround the vagina).
  • Type 3 – Infibulation: narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, or outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris.
  • Type 4 – Other: all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.

In numbers

  • 137,000

    Women and girls are living with the consequences of FGM in the UK

  • 200m

    Women and girls worldwide have undergone FGM

Where does FGM happen?

Many cultures have different reasons for continuing FGM. From upholding the status of the community to maintaining her virginity, marriageability and bride price. From enhancing her beauty to increasing her husband’s sexual pleasure. These cultural, economic and religious justifications assume FGM benefits the girl as she transitions to womanhood.

Download the Global FGM Prevalence Map (FGM Type 1-3)

FGM Worldwide Prevalence map


Myths and facts about FGM

Myth 1: An uncut woman will become promiscuous (‘sleep around’) and have an uncontrollable sexual appetite.

Fact 1: FGM makes no difference to a woman’s sexual appetite but can stop her from enjoying sex. Sexual desire mainly  arises from hormones secreted by glands in the brain. Women should be able to choose what level of sexual activity is right for them personally. Some women like to wait to have sex until they are married, some feel ready earlier. So long as sexual activity is safe and respectful, all that matters is that women do what they feel is right.

Myth 2: If the clitoris is not cut, it will harm the husband during intercourse.

Fact 2: The clitoris gives a woman sexual pleasure and does not cause any harm to her or her husband.

Myth 3: If a woman does not undergo FGM, her genitals will smell.

Fact 3: FGM will not make the vagina any more hygienic. In fact, Type 3 FGM can make the vagina less hygienic.

Read more about FGM on our FGM FAQ: A Campaigner’s Guide

Our approach to ending FGM

Engaging the community

FORWARD’s work with affected communities safeguards girls at risk of FGM and supports women living with the consequences – in Africa and practicing migrant communities in the UK and Europe. We engage directly with women and men in communities to raise awareness of the risks of FGM. We support them through training and confidence building – which enable them to advocate for change in their communities.

Female genital mutilation is sometimes referred to with other terms like female circumcision and female genital cutting. We use ‘female genital mutilation,’ because we believe it most accurately describes the experience and effects of FGM on women and girls. ‘Mutilation’ emphasises the severity of the practice and abuse of women and girls’ human rights.

“The attitude towards FGM has changed dramatically over the years, mostly for the better…the more we address this issue, the more the community feels empowered – and not like victims.” Bristol community engagement participant, 2018

Working with professionals

We train and support professionals engaging with affected communities – by raising awareness of the issues and by building their confidence to support at risk communities in ways respectful of local cultures. We advocate and campaign for change at policy-level in the UK, EU and Africa.

Building partnerships

We develop strategic partnerships with community-based organisations, to develop their technical capacity, and build local support networks for African women and girls.

FACT: The Tanzania 2016 Demographic Health Survey reported a 5% (10% – 10%) reduction in the prevalence of FGM over 5 years. Our continuing work in this region contributes to positive change for young girls at risk of FGM.


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