Female genital mutilation


    Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a traditional harmful practice that involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injury to female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

    It is estimated that more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in the countries where the practice is concentrated. In addition, every year an estimated 3 million girls are at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation, the majority of whom are cut before they turn 15 years old.  

    FGM has no health benefits. It can lead to immediate health risks, as well as long-term complications to women’s physical, mental and sexual health and well-being.   

    The practice is recognized internationally as a violation of human rights of girls and women and as an extreme form of gender discrimination, reflecting deep-rooted inequality between the sexes. As it is practiced on young girls without consent, it is a violation of the rights of children. FGM also violates a person's rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.

    As part of the Sustainable Development Goals, the global community has set a target to abandon the practice of female genital mutilation by the year 2030.


    While the exact number of girls and women worldwide who have undergone female genital mutilation remains unknown, at least 200 million girls and women alive today have been subjected to the practice, according to data from the 30 countries where population level data exist. The practice is mainly concentrated in western, eastern, and north-eastern regions of Africa, as well as in some countries in the Middle East and Asia.

    With growing migration, there has been an increase in the number of girls and women in Europe, Australia and North America who have either undergone female genital mutilation or who may be at risk of being subjected to the practice. FGM is therefore a global concern.

    While there has been an overall decline in the prevalence of FGM over the last three decades, not all countries have made progress and the pace of decline has been uneven. Current progress is insufficient to keep up with increasing population growth. If trends continue, the number of girls and women undergoing FGM will rise significantly in the next 15 years.

    WHO response

    WHO is strongly opposed to health professionals performing FGM and urges all health workers to uphold the medical code of ethics to “do no harm”. Medicalization of FGM normalizes and condones the practice and hinders long term efforts for abandoning this grave violation of the human rights of women and girls.

    WHO recognizes the important role that health care personnel play in supporting and improving the health and well-being of girls and women living with FGM. Moreover, WHO acknowledges the unique position that midwives and nurses may have to influence and change attitudes towards FGM amongst their patients because of their close contact with practicing communities and since they provide the majority of health care in primary health care settings. WHO has developed a training package to help empower health providers by strengthening their knowledge about the practice, so that they in turn can act as influential agents for change within clinical settings as well in their communities and families.

    WHO uses a public health approach to FGM and works to ensure that girls and women living with FGM receive quality prevention and care services, by developing evidence-based guidance and resources for training and policy; supporting countries to adapt and implement them; generating evidence on causes, consequences, and costs of FGM and on what works to end the practice; and developing advocacy tools to support efforts to prevent FGM


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    Latest publications

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    Integrating female genital mutilation content into nursing and midwifery curricula: a practical guide

    This guide is intended to promote a global health sector response to FGM for the provision of high-quality prevention and care services to women and girls...

    Person-centred communication for female genital mutilation prevention: a facilitator’s guide for training health-care providers

    Evidence shows that FGM can cause several physical, mental and sexual health complications in girls and women, and in newborns. Health-care providers...

    Ethical considerations in research on female genital mutilation

    High-quality, ethical research on female genital mutilation (FGM) is an essential component of international, national and local efforts to end the...

    Female genital mutilation: Evidence brief

    Female genital mutilation (FGM) is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep rooted inequality...

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