The role of men in abandonment of female genital mutilation: a systematic review
Varol et al. BMC Public Health
The role of men in abandonment of female genital mutilation: a systematic review
Nesrin Varol 0
Sabera Turkmani 2
Kirsten Black 0
John Hall 1
Angela Dawson 2
0 Sydney Medical School , Discipline of Obstetrics and Gynaecology , University of Sydney , Sydney, NSW 2006 , Australia
1 Centre for Clinical Epidemiology & Biostatistics, School of Medicine and Public Health, Faculty of Health and Medicine, University of Newcastle , Newcastle, NSW , Australia
2 Centre for Midwifery, Child and Family Health, Faculty of Health, University of Technology Sydney , Sydney, NSW , Australia
Background: Men in their roles as fathers, husbands, community and religious leaders may play a pivotal part in the continuation of female genital mutilation (FGM). However, the research on their views of FGM and their potential role in its abandonment are not well described. Methods: We undertook a systematic review of all publications between 2004 and 2014 that explored men's attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours in regards to FGM, as well as their ideas about FGM prevention and abandonment. Results: We included twenty peer-reviewed articles from 15 countries in the analysis. Analysis revealed ambiguity of men's wishes in regards to the continuation of FGM. Many men wished to abandon this practice because of the physical and psychosexual complications to both women and men. Social obligation and the silent culture between the sexes were posited as major obstacles for change. Support for abandonment was influenced by notions of social obligation, religion, education, ethnicity, urban living, migration, and understanding of the negative sequelae of FGM. The strongest influence was education. Conclusion: The level of education of men was one of the most important indicators for men's support for abandonment of FGM. Social obligation and the lack of dialogue between men and women were two key issues that men acknowledged as barriers to abandonment. Advocacy by men and collaboration between men and women's health and community programs may be important steps forward in the abandonment process.
Female genital mutilation; Men; Beliefs; Attitudes; Behaviour; Intervention programs; Systematic review
FGM is a transnational public health, human rights, and
gender injustice issue, which more than 125 million girls
and women in 29 countries of Africa and the Middle
East have been subjected to . It is also prevalent in
some countries of Asia and migrant communities in
Europe, the USA, Australia and New Zealand . Even if
the worldwide decline in FGM is maintained at current
rates, population growth means that about 196 million
girls would be cut by 2050 . We therefore need a
change in our approach to the prevention of this
practice that can have a devastating impact not only on girls
and women, but can adversely affect men  and
communities as well.
FGM refers to all procedures involving partial or total
removal of the external female genitalia or other injury
to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons .
It is usually performed on girls from birth to age 15.
Girls may die at the time of cutting from haemorrhage
or infection, or experience significant physical,
psychological and sexual complications [5–8]. There is a
discrepancy between the wishes of many men and women
to stop FGM and the reality of it continuing due to the
deeply entrenched sense of social obligation to cut one’s
daughter . Moreover, this practice persists due to the
lack of open dialogue between men and women, and
reluctance to debate it in the public sphere. This precludes
opportunities for culturally sensitive and critical
introspection by communities .
Although women appear to be at the forefront of the
perpetuation of FGM, there is some evidence that men
may play a significant role in its continuation as fathers,
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husbands, and community and religious leaders [9, 10].
Existing FGM research involving men in regards to their
influence on the decision-making process is very limited.
There is no data on the success of involving men in the
abandonment process. Moreover, there is little
knowledge regarding the implication and effect of FGM
practice on men. Footbinding of girls in China, a practice
with similar sociocultural underpinnings, was abandoned
and advocacy by men had played a crucial role .
Our systemic review examines perceptions and
attitudes of men towards FGM, and their perceived and
actual role in the abandonment process. The results have
implications for research and intervention programs to
empower men, women and their communities to be able
to make the decision to abandon FGM.
A textual narrative synthesis was undertaken involving
the analysis of study characteristics, context, and
findings . A PICOS question was developed to guide this
review . We therefore sought to answer the question
“For men who were born in countries, or claim ancestry
from ethnic groups where FGM is practised, what are
their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours in regards to
FGM, its prevention and abandonment?” Observational
studies, quasi-experimental and non-experimental
descriptive and qualitative studies were considered
appropriate for inclusion in the review. If intervention studies
were available, we sought to examine strategies that had
led to change in knowledge, attitudes and behaviours.
However, we also sought to identify the current views of
men across different settings and contexts to gain
insights that may provide opportunities to garner men’s
support for the prevention and abandonment of FGM.
A systematic search of the peer reviewed research
literature published in English from 2005 to 2015 was
undertaken by AD. The PRISMA guidelines were
applied to the review process (Fig. 1) .
We searched Academic Search Complete (EBSCO)
that included the pertinent databases Medline and
CINAHL. We also searched ProQuest Health & Medical
Complete, SCOPUS, Web of Science and Science Direct.
The following key words were used in the search:
“female genital mutilation” OR “female circumcision” OR
“female genital cutting”, AND “men” AND “attitudes”
OR “beliefs”, OR “behaviour”. In addition, we hand
searched the reference lists of relevant papers to gain
additional documents. Duplicate records were removed
as well as papers that were not within the scope of the
review, or older than 2005. AD and NV then screened
35 papers and removed those that did not disaggregate
data by sex or gender or where male views did not
provide a substantial contribution to the findings. For
example two papers included only one reference to
men’s understandings of FGM [15, 16]. In the paper by
Shell-Duncan et al , it was difficult to extrapolate
men’s knowledge and views from women’s. In another
paper that was removed, women spoke about FGM and
men did not contribute data on FGM in the study .
Twenty-one papers deemed eligible for inclusion
were then appraised for quality using checklists to
assess both qualitative and quantitative papers [18, 19].
One paper was discarded, as it was not a research study
. The characteristics of all 20 papers were
summarised (Table 1) to examine context, sample, study
aims and findings. All findings were then analysed and
the data pertaining to men only were extracted. These
findings were then synthesised to answer the review
question as described by Harden et al  and key
categories developed concerning men’s perceptions, issues
and support. These findings were discussed by NV and
AD and agreement was reached.
Twenty peer-reviewed articles were included in our
analysis. Nine were quantitative surveys [22–30], ten
used qualitative interviews [31–40] and one was a
mixed qualitative and quantitative study . The
settings included 15 countries, i.e. Egypt, Yemen,
Oman, Nigeria, North Sudan, Senegal, Guinea, Somalia,
Gambia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, USA, Norway, Sweden
Three main themes in regards to men’s attitudes,
beliefs and behaviours to support continuation or
abandonment of FGM and its prevention emerged. These
were (1) men’s perceptions of FGM, (2) FGM as an issue
for men, and (3) influence of socio-demographic factors.
A synthesis of the available data revealed ambiguity of
men’s wishes in regards to the continuation of FGM.
Many men wished to abandon this practice because of
the physical and psychosexual complications to both
women and men. The silent culture between the sexes
was posited as a major obstacle for change , as was
the entrenched sense of social obligation [31, 35, 37].
Men’s perception of FGM
A study of fathers in Egypt showed that they believed
uncut women to be promiscuous . FGM was
deemed important for good marriage opportunities and
to ensure fidelity in marriage . In this respect, FGM
helped men maintain polygamy in some communities
. Men in Guinea considered FGM to reduce the
likelihood of premarital sex . In a study of Somali
men, however, they were divided on whether FGM
prevented premarital sex, marital infidelity and
preserved the dignity of girls .
Men acknowledged and complained about the
negative impact of FGM on marital sexual relationships, and
found the lack of sexual response of their wives
disturbing or inconvenient [31, 33]. Almost all 99 men and
religious leaders, Muslims and Christians, in a study in
rural communities in Egypt acknowledged women’s
equal right to enjoy sex . Nevertheless, for some
men these concerns and beliefs were overridden by
their wish to ensure their wives’ fidelity in marriage
 or their fear of loss of control over the sexual
FGM as an issue for men
Interviews with men in Northern Sudan revealed that
men did not accurately understand FGM, as it was not
until they were newly married that they experienced the
irrevocable consequences of their wives’ FGM . Men
felt they, too, were victims of the consequences of FGM.
Almost all men stated they did not want their daughters
to undergo FGM and believed it would become less
common as men had started to prefer women who had
not been cut . Men described their own
complications, including male sexual dissatisfaction, compassion
for female suffering and perceived challenges to their
masculinity [32, 33].
Factors that influence men’s support for continuation or
abandonment of FGM
Somali men in Oslo acknowledged that men in Somalia
disliked the practice but that it continued due to social
obligation . Men agreed to it so as not to upset
their mothers . Somali men in Norway no longer
felt social pressure to perform FGM. In fact, they
maintained that it was prestigious for a woman not to have
been cut .
Fathers in Egypt acknowledged the wish to abandon
FGM and a longing for change . They cited social
pressure and fear of rejection from the community as
significant barriers to the abandonment process. The
entrenched sense of social obligation was stronger than
the belief that FGM was against their religion .
Education, urban living, religion and ethnicity
The level of education of men, urban living and wealth
are associated with disapproval of FGM [24, 26, 29, 30].
Evaluation of DHS data in Guinea from 1999 revealed
that 51 % of men wanted FGM to continue, whilst 38 %
were against it . Each additional year of schooling
substantially increased the odds of favouring the
discontinuation of the practice .
Table 1 Summary of literature in the review
Abdelshahid and Egypt, rural communities in the Individual semi-structured
Campbell (2015)  Al Qalyoubeya governorate in in-depth interviews
the Nile Delta region and
Sample Five fathers who had at least one daughter, all Muslim, age 22-60 years
To identify psychosocial factors Fathers acknowledge negative
that shape parents’ decisions to impact of FGM on marital sexual
circumcise or not circumcise relationships. Female circumcision
their daughters reflects the pride of parents. The
practice is linked to a daughter’s
maturity and acquisition of her
Noncircumcision is considered an
obstacle to daughters’ marriage
opportunities. Men believe girls
who are not circumcised are
promiscuous. FGM safeguards their
daughter from engaging in
adulterous relationships after
marriage.Although lack of sexual
response is inconvenient and
disturbing to the husband, the
practice is still deemed important
to ensure marriage fidelity and
retain the husband’s feeling of
security regarding his wife’s
fidelity.Parents find it difficult to
deviate from the tradition in fear
of rejection from the community.
They continue to do it even
though they may believe it is
against their religion. They long for
change but are held back by social
Al-Khulaidi et al.
Yemen Demographic Health Surveys, 1997 and 2003
Husbands of women aged 15–49, To highlight attitudes of More husbands thought FGM
n = 4897 and n = 5908 in 1997 and women of reproductive age should be stopped in 2003 than in
2003, respectively (15-49) and their husbands 1997 (p < 0.001). The percentage of
towards the practice of FGM, couples that both agreed that
and their association with the FGM should be continued was
performance of FGM upon their reduced from 27.5 % in 1997 to
daughters 19.6 % in 2003 (p < 0.001).
Husbands of women who had
undergone FGM were supportive
of FGM continuation, i.e. 60.1 and
49.5 % in 1997 and 2003,
respectively. Both women and
their husbands were more
supportive regarding performance
of FGM when the women had not
undergone FGM (57.5 % and 47.4/
%). When husbands of women
with and without FGM did not
agree with FGM, daughters were
less likely to receive FGM in 1997
and in 2003.Women and
Nigeria, Shao Community
Intervention study using a
multistage sampling technique –
questionnaire. Intervention stage consisted
of health education sessions on
FGM and its complications. Survey
was supplemented by in-depth
qualitative interview of traditional
Berggren et al.
Descriptive and explorative study
based on qualitative interviews
with men and women between
September 2002 and June 2003
Ten in-depth interviews with men
of age between 28 and 47, all
Muslim, of varying economic
status and ethnic group
To explore men’s and women’s
perceptions and experiences of
FGC* with emphasis on
reinfibulation (RI) after delivery
159 and 181 men pre- and
To determine level of practice
of FGM and impact of a health
husbands’ attitudes to not support
continuation of FGM were
significantly associated with not
having performed FGM on their
daughters, regardless of women’s
age and education. A daughter
was more likely to receive FGM
when the attitude towards FGM of
her father was positive.
A greater proportion of men than
women did not want FGM to be
stopped in the pre-intervention
stage of the study, but this
proportion decreased significantly (from
53.5 to 25.4 %) in the
postintervention stage. Educational
status, age and gender were
statistically significantly associated with
whether respondents had their
daughters excised or not, while
religion was not.
Both men and women felt they
were victims of consequences of
FGC. Men described their own
complications, male sexual
dissatisfaction, compassion for
female suffering and perceived
challenges to their masculinity. The
psychological problems created by
FGC increase women’s reluctance
to discuss the issue. Men claimed
that it was not until they were
newly married that men
experienced the irrevocable
consequences of their wives’ FGC.
Almost all men had had sexual
experiences with uncircumcised
women. Men explained they tried
to compensate for the effects of
FGC with other means of sexual
stimulation. Almost all men stated
they did not want their daughters
to undergo FGC and no man
wanted his daughters to undergo
infibulation. None of the men
considered RI to be his decision,
but rather one of the mother, aunt
or midwife. Men stated they had
only limited influence. They
believed primary FGC would
Diop and Askew
Quasi-experimental, pre- and
postintervention longitudinal design
with a comparison group; Village
Empowerment Program included
classes on human rights,
problemsolving process, basic hygiene,
373 men pre-intervention in 2000; To evaluate effect of
85 men participants in interven- community education program
tion, 198 men nonparticipants in on community members’
2002; 82 men participants, 195 willingness to abandon FGM/
nonparticipants in endline in 2003; C**
184 men in baseline and 198 men
in endline comparison group
Egypt, two rural communities
Focus group discussions and
99 men, including community and To examine the role of female
religious leaders, circumcisers, and sexuality in women’s and men’s
health providers; over and under continued support of FGM/C,
35 years of age, Muslims and and their perceptions of its
Christians, educated and non- sexual consequences
Gage & Van Rossem
Guinea Descriptive quantitative: secondary analysis of cross sectional survey (Demographic Health Surveys)
1851 men aged 15-59, 41 % of
men were never married; 84 %
Muslim; men completed 3.7 years
of schooling, two-thirds of
participants lived in rural areas
To examine gender differences 53 % of men reported social
in attitudes toward the approval as an advantage of FGC,
discontinuation of FGC and gain 42 % believed FGC reduced
insights into factors supporting likelihood of premarital sex, 61 %
its elimination believed it was accepted by their
religion, 38 % of men opposed the
continuation of FGC, 51 % of men
said FGC should continue. With
decrease in the future, because
men were starting to look for
brides who had not undergone
FGC. Men mentioned the silent
culture between the sexes as one
of the major obstacles for change.
Among all groups of men, fewer
men intended to cut their
daughter at endline. The change
was greatest among the program’s
participants (from 66 to 13 %) and
least among men living in the
comparison villages (from 78 to
56 %). At endline, men who had
participated in the program were
the least likely (20 %), and men in
the comparison group the most
likely (63 %) to express a
preference for a woman who had
been cut. Three-fourth of male
participants indicated they would be
willing to ask people in their
community to end the practice and
would support women calling for
the abandonment of FGM/C. In
the comparison group, less than
30 % of men indicated the same.
Men were concerned that
women’s sexual pleasure was
reduced, yet were worried that
uncut women would be too
sexually demanding, endangering
their control over the sexual
relationship. Almost all men and
religious leaders stated that
women had as much right to
enjoy sex as men. Many religious
leaders understood the complexity
between sexual desire and
circumcision. Many men
complained about problems with
their sexual lives in marriage.
Gele, Bente, &
Sundby (2013) 
Qualitative descriptive study using
11 Somali men aged ≥18
To explore the attitudes of
Somalis to the practice of FC***
Gele, Bo, & Sundby
Somalia, Hargeisa district
crosssectional study; structured
To examine attitudes of Somali
men towards FC
Qualitative descriptive study using
focus groups and interviews
17 men under and over 25 years To explore the attitudes of
of age, majority secondary school- Somalis living in Norway
level education, few had college towards FC
or university education
each additional year of schooling,
the odds of favouring the
discontinuation of FGC increased
substantially. Urban residence
increased men’s odds of
supporting discontinuation of FGC.
As the number of perceived
respondents became more likely
to support the discontinuation of
FGC. Islam was not a significant
variable in any of the models.
Almost all men supported
continuation of FGM, mainly
Sunna form, while rejecting
Pharaonic type. Some men were
aware of health implications of the
latter and perceived there to be
no complications with the Sunna
type. It was believed to be a
Abandonment process was
preferred to come from
communities rather than
government and NGOs.
96 % of men preferred to marry
circumcised women. However,
85 % preferred the Sunna form,
11 % preferred the Pharaonic form
and only 2.8 % would choose
uncircumcised women to be their
wives. Only two men supported
the discontinuation of all forms of
FC. 96 % of men perceived FC to
be a religious requirement. About
90 % of men knew about
complications of FC. Men were
divided on whether it prevented
premarital sex, led to trustable
marriage and preserved the
dignity of girls.
Almost all men (n = 16) expressed
their rejection of all types of FC.
They had high knowledge of
adverse health outcomes for
women and men. Majority agreed
that the practice was a traditional
culture as opposed to religious
practice, and that it reduced
female sexual pleasure. There was
Oman, secondary schools
Descriptive quantitative cross
sectional survey; self-administered
secondary school-based sample
of 1670 boys, mean age 17.3
To examine the knowledge,
attitudes and practices of
Omani adolescents towards
Johnsdotter et al.
Sweden 33 semi-structured qualitative inter- 33 Ethiopian and Eritrean men and To explore attitudes toward FGC views, snowballing sampling and women, aged 28 to 69, almost as from a migration perspective contacts with immigrant many men as women were
et al. (2014) 
Somali refugee community in
Maricopa Country, Arizona,
research, involving qualitative
interviews and focus group
Kaplan, Cham et al.
Gambia Transversal descriptive study using face-to-face questionnaire 993 men, mean age 36.5, 96 %
To examine perspectives of
Somali men toward FGC and
women’s childbirth experiences
in a refugee community in the
To explore knowledge and
attitudes of Gambian men
towards FGM/C, as well as
practices in their family and
household; to promote
knowledge on FGM/C and
no pressure to do it in Norway
and it was prestigious not to be
circumcised there. Men explained
that many people in Somalia
disliked FG but continued it due to
social pressure. One man had
believed FC prevented sexual
violence towards girls.
Nearly 80 % of adolescent boys
considered FGC to be necessary
and important. This attitude was
significantly higher in interior
regions than the capital or coastal
regions and was inversely
associated with higher level of
parent education, especially
mothers’ education. Fifty-three
percent and 28 % of boys were aware
of the physiological and emotional
puberty changes in boys and girls,
With the exception of two men, all
men strongly rejected FGC. Many
men emphasised a loss of ability
by women to experience sexual
pleasure. Men perceived FGC as
devoid of meaning.
Men expressed concern about lack
of knowledge on FC by doctors.
They felt responsible to advocate
on her behalf of their wives and
be cultural educators to healthcare
providers. Men acknowledged
strong matriarchal support of FGC.
All but one man disagreed with
the practice. They were aware of
FGC-related morbidity. Men
maintained they just agreed to the
practice because they did not
want to upset the mothers.
72 % of men did not know FGM/C
had negative impact on health.
Awareness of health problems was
higher among younger men who
were less supportive of practice.
These men also had lower
intention of cutting their
daughters and highest willingness
of seeing men intervening in
et al. (2013) 
rural areas of The Gambia
A cross-sectional descriptive study
with quantitative methodology
40 medical students from the
Community-based Medical Programme Mitike and Deressa (2009) 
246 men, Somali refugees, in three To determine the prevalence
refugee camps, all Muslim and associated factors of FGM
Ouldzeidoune et al.
Mauritania DHS of Mauritania, 2000-2001 2,191 men aged 15 and 59 To examine knowledge,
attitudes, and practices
regarding FGM/C among health
care professionals (HCP)
working in rural settings in The
To investigate factors related to
FGM and gavage practices and
attitudes in Mauritania; to
explore implications related to
the protection of children’s
rights and welfare
prevention.Minority of men
partook in decision-making,
especially if they were not married.
There were ethnic differences as to
whether FGM/C was considered
requirement by Islam.
A significant proportion of
Gambian HCP working in rural
areas embraced the continuation
of FGM/C(42.5 %), intended to
subject their own daughters to it
(47.2 %), and reported having
already performed it during their
medical practice (7.6 %). Their
knowledge, attitudes, and practices
were shaped by sex and ethnic
identity. HCP belonging to
traditionally practicing groups
were more favourable to the
perpetuation and medicalisation of
FGM/C, suggesting that ethnicity
prevailed over professional
More men (89 %) than women
(55 %) positively viewed the
usefulness of anti-FGM
interventions. Fewer men (75 %) than
women (91 %) had the intention
to cut their daughters.
Participation of the parents in anti-FGM
interventions was statistically
associated with lower practice and
intention to cut their daughters.
The overall prevalence of FGM was
77 % but varied depending on
ethnicity. The majority of female
and male respondents favoured
continuation of the practice (64
and 70 %, respectively). Men and
women in rural areas were more
likely to approve of continued
FGM. There was discordance
between male and female beliefs
that the opposite sex desired the
continuation of the practice, with
37 % of women reporting that
they though that males wanted to
continue and 55 % of men
Spain Descriptive study with ethnographic methodology using semi-structured interviews
9 men from Senegal and Mali,
living in Spain, average age 35
Sagna (2014) 
Sierra Leone DHS data of Sierra Leone, 2008 3123 men aged 15-59 Sakeah et al. (2006)
*female genital cutting
**female genital mutilation/cutting
*** female circumcision
****ablation/female genital mutilation
Simple random sample technique
in a district of northern Ghana;
questionnaire survey with two
parts: part one to all men and part
two to only those who had heard
1,406 men aged 12-24, 1,114 men
aged 25 and above
To determine factors associated
with men’s preference for
reporting that they believed
women wanted it to continue.
To identify perspective of men The results show that the A/FGM
on A/FGM**** to increase the was conceived as a system of
cultural understanding of traditional cares subtended by
factors that support this practice several sexual, hygienic and
religious factors. FGM was
considered to guarantee
faithfulness of wives in marriage
and hence plays an important role
in the maintenance of polygamy
To determine men’s and
women’s attitude toward
discontinuation of FGC
More men (36 %) compared to
women (25 %) thought there were
no benefits for a girl to undergo
FGC. Men who saw no benefit had
four times odds of supporting
discontinuation. Men were
significantly less likely to support
discontinuation if they saw it as
18.8 % of men preferred women
who had FGC. Men who preferred
women with FGC were
significantly more likely to be
illiterate or have only primary or
middle school education as
compared to secondary and
higher education. Men who
preferred women to have FGC
were significantly more likely to be
Nankana compared to Kassesa
ethnicity and more likely to report
their religion as traditional
compared to Christianity.
A school-based study of adolescent boys in Oman
revealed that they were more likely to support FGM if they
lived in rural areas and their parents had lower level of
education . Eighty percent of the boys considered
FGM to be important and necessary.
The analysis of the DHS of Guinea showed that if
FGM was considered to be accepted by religion, men
were more likely to be supportive of the practice . In
two studies in Somalia, almost all men supported the
continuation of FGM and 96 % preferred to marry
women who had been cut, even though 90 % were aware
of its complications [25, 34]. Men supported the “lesser”
Sunna type, i.e. types I and II, because they believed it
not to have any negative health effects, unlike the
Pharaonic type, i.e. type III or infibulation . Ninety-six
percent of men believed FGM to be a religious
Prevalence of FGM varied amongst Muslims with
different ethnic backgrounds from 12 % to 98 % in a study
of 993 men in Gambia . The Serer and Wolof
communities that were Muslim but traditionally
nonpractising, had the lowest prevalence. Wolof men also
had the highest awareness of complications of FGM
. Similarly, male healthcare workers in Gambia
belonging to traditionally practising communities were
more likely to support the continuation and
medicalisation of FGM, and intended to cut their daughters .
Knowledge of complications of FGM
Intervention studies involving men had an important
positive effect on men’s attitudes towards abandonment
of this practice. In a study of men (n = 4488) and women
(n = 5041) in Nigeria , a greater proportion of men
(54 %) than women (44 %) did not want FGM stopped
prior to the intervention of health education on FGM
and its complications over ten days. There was a
statistically significant decrease in this attitude to 25 %
amongst men in the post-intervention stage.
A six months Village Empowerment Program was
conducted by TOSTAN in Senegal on human rights,
problem-solving process, basic hygiene, and women’s
health . The change in the intention to cut their
daughters amongst men was greatest among program
participants (66 to 13 %) and least in the control group
(78 to 56 %). Twenty percent of men as participants and
63 % in the comparison groups preferred a women who
had been cut. Most participant men (75 %) indicated
their support for the abandonment of FGM. Only 30 %
in the comparison group expressed the same.
In a study of 993 men in Gambia, 72 % did not know
FGM had a negative impact on health . As compared
to older men, younger men had a better understanding
of the health problems and were less supportive of the
practice, had lower intention to cut their daughters, and
had higher willingness for men to participate in
prevention programs .
There are three studies that examined the attitudes of
men from Somalia in Norway  and the USA ,
and from Ethiopia and Eritrea in Sweden . In
contrast to findings from countries where FGM is
prevalent, almost all men strongly rejected this practice
[35–37]. Men had very good knowledge of the
complications of FGM [35–37] and understood that it reduced
female sexual pleasure [35, 36]. They considered it
devoid of meaning within the context of a cultural
practice and that it had no religious mandate [35, 36]. One
man had believed it was done to girls to prevent sexual
Even living in another African country had a positive
effect on attitudes of men. Eighty-nine percent of Somali
male refugees in Ethiopia positively viewed the
usefulness of anti-FGM interventions .
Our systematic review supports the two main factors
perpetuating the continuation of FGM, namely social
obligation and marriageability . The former relates to
social pressure to adhere to norms, which vary among
different communities and countries. The norms may
pertain to perceived religious requirement, family
honour through premarital virginity of daughters and
marital fidelity of wives, aesthetics, and rite of passage
[42–44]. Fear of exclusion from resources and
opportunities as a young woman, including a good marriage, are
other important reasons [42, 43]. Men may play a
passive role in approving FGM by refusing to marry uncut
women or an active one by initiating the practice . In
a study of about 400 Nigerian men and women, 71 % of
them stated that it was paternal grandfathers and fathers
who were the decision makers responsible for requesting
On the other hand, many men wish the practice to
end but are unable to voice their concerns. In Guinea,
Sierra Leone and Chad, for example, more men than
women want FGM to end . There is evidence from
DHS data that there may be limited dialogue on FGM
between the genders . In some surveys, women and
girls tended to consistently underestimate the proportion
of men and boys who wanted FGM to end. Similarly, in
some surveys many women and men did not know the
opinion of the opposite sex in regards to FGM .
Enabling communication between men and women,
as well as among men, and opening up this practice
to a debate of its validity in a culturally sensitive way
warrants further research and may facilitate the
abandonment process. In a family planning study, teaching
communication skills to men to facilitate
conversations on contraception with their partners, not only
increased contraception uptake but also improved
spousal relationships .
Our review suggests that FGM affects men as well as
women and that it can no longer be considered an issue
pertaining only to women’s health . Men married to
women with FGM have health complications as well and
feel they, too, are victims of this practice . Indeed,
the adverse effects of FGM on men have been well
documented in a Sudanese study of married men (n = 59),
most of whom expressed difficulty with vaginal
penetration, wounds or infections on the penis and
psychosexual problems . Most notable was the finding that men
perceived their wives’ suffering as their own problem.
Most of the young men stated they would have preferred
to be married to uncut women .
Our results reveal that education, age, knowledge of
the health complications of FGM, religion, urban living,
ethnicity, and migration influence men’s stated support
for the abandonment of this practice. These findings are
in keeping with the UNICEF 2013 report of analysis of
DHS data over 20 years from 29 countries of Africa and
the Middle East . The common thread that binds
these factors is education. Involvement of men in sexual
and reproductive health promotion, for example, has
been a successful strategy to help women with family
planning, HIV/STI prevention, violence against women,
and maternity care [46–50]. Studies have shown that
men do want to be involved, and respond positively to
efforts to involve them in these programs, as they care
about the welfare of their families [51, 52]. A study in
Nepal, for instance, showed that educating pregnant
women and their male partners had a greater impact on
maternal health behaviours compared with educating
women alone . The relationship between education
level and support for the abandonment of FGM,
however, is presented through bivariate analysis and further
research through multivariate analysis would help to
Involvement of men in reproductive health services to
date has been with the sole purpose of benefit to women
. In a study of male involvement in maternity health
care in Malawi, men felt they were not the beneficiaries
and were merely used as a means to get women to the
health service . Moreover, due to gender dynamics,
men attending women’s clinics with their wives were
vulnerable and ridiculed by other men . A more
positive and successful involvement of men in the
abandonment of FGM hence may be achieved by the
provision of reproductive health services specific for
men. A man-to-man strategy would allow open
discussion of private and sensitive health and other personal
men’s issues. Men also, like women, need to be
empowered through health literacy to be able to make
informed and healthy decisions for themselves and their
families. Interviews of Kenyan men suggested men-only
community groups for creating awareness and
conducting male reproductive health education . Education
has also been achieved through schools, social media,
mobile phone technology, sporting events, musicians,
radio, theatre and puppet shows [54, 55]. Male
musicians or sportsmen themselves could be key advocates
for the abandonment of FGM. Using videos depicting
graphic images of the practice has been particularly
effective with men who became aware of the suffering
involved for the first time .
It may be beneficial for the abandonment process if
men’s intervention and education programs worked with
those of women’s. Our study shows that some men
distinctly wish the harmful practice of FGM to continue
even if they believed their religion did not condone it.
Their self-interest is to support polygamy in some
communities and control the sexuality of their wives. This
requires opposition and a voice from women. It requires
their financial empowerment through education and
independence from men.
In our review, some men highlighted that change
should come from within their own community rather
than governments or nongovernment organisations .
Communities in Sub-Saharan Africa endure many
human rights abuses in addition to FGM, such as lack of
access to clean water, food security, health services and
education, child marriage, and sexual violence .
Addressing communities’ priorities would be an important
gateway to earning their trust and working with men
and women towards the abandonment of FGM. This is
borne out by our review that migration is a positive
influence to the abandonment of FGM. We may speculate
on the reasons for this phenomenon. When people are
granted their basic human rights with stable and
improved social and economic living options, the need to
cut their daughter for marriageability and economic
survival is removed. Moreover, social pressure is relieved, as
FGM is counter-normative in the new country. Instead
of FGM accruing positive outcomes like a good
marriage, it causes prejudice and disadvantage, and becomes
a liability. As borne out by the study of Somali migrants
in Norway , uncut Somali girls were more likely to
attract boyfriends and get married as compared to girls
who had been subjected to FGM.
Strengths and limitations
This study is the first in the literature to present a
systematic review of the role of men in FGM. It provides
evidence on the importance of and need for directing
research and intervention programs to involve men in the
abandonment process. The limitations pertain mainly to
measurement, interviewer, and response biases in the
studies. In FGD especially, men may be reluctant to give
socially unacceptable answers for a topic that has such
high social pressure for conformity.
In particular, in the intervention studies, subjects may
have acknowledged to the interviewer that they did not
support the continuation of FGM at endline because
they believed this to be the answer they wanted to hear.
In some studies, money was given to subjects for
participation, which introduced selection and response bias.
FGM is a prosecutable offence in most of the countries
where it is performed. Hence, in the studies cited, men
may not have felt they could freely disclose their beliefs.
The overall findings of the review cannot be generalised
to all men in regards to FGM, as prevalence, views and
behaviours are specific to countries and communities.
Moreover, even though men’s opinions are stated and
they may support abandonment, we do not know their
influence on the decision making process to subject girls
Men have conflicting views on FGM. Many would like it
to end but are unable to voice their support for its
abandonment due to social pressure and obligation within
the community. Change needs to come from within
communities, supported by the creation of opportunities
for men and women to debate the practice amongst
themselves. Advocacy by men, as well as research,
prevention programs and health services targeted at men
could be explored to assess their success within the
abandonment process. These programs may work
together with those for women to empower men and
women to decide to abandon this harmful practice to
protect their daughters, men and communities from the
devastating effects of this harmful practice.
FGM: Female genital mutilation; USA: United States of America;
PICOS: Population, Interventions, Comparison, Outcomes, Study design;
PRISMA: Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and
MetaAnalyses; CINAHL: Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health;
FGM: Female genital cutting; RI: Re-infibulation; FGM/C: Female genital
mutilation/cutting; FC: Female circumcision; A/FGM: Ablation/female genital
mutilation; DHS: Demographic and Health Surveys; UNICEF: United Nations
Children’s Fund; HIV/STI: Human immunodeficiency virus/sexually transmitted
infections; FGD: Focus group discussion(s).
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
NV and AD conceived the idea of the study. The systematic search of the
peer-reviewed research was undertaken by AD. NV and AD undertook
evaluation of the identified research. NV, AD, ST and KB summarised the
available data. NV drafted the manuscript and AD, ST, KB and JH finalised the
manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
This is an independent and unfunded study.
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