Female Genital Mutilation in Africa
e Journal of International Relations
Fe m ale G enital M utilation in Africa
0 The Journal of International Relations, Peace and Development Studies A publication by Arcadia University and the American Graduate School in Paris
Female Genital Mutilation1 in Africa
Lorraine Koonce Esq
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is routinely practiced as tradition in twenty nine countries in Africa
and the Middle East nations2, many of them in West Africa3 distributed more or less contiguously
across a zone running from Senegal in the west to the east. 4Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central
African Republic, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea,
Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria,
Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo and Uganda practice FGM. 5
FGM is a collective term used for the various degrees of cutting on the female external organs but
despite the degrees of cutting, women and girls are subject to excruciating pain.6 It takes one of three
forms: Sunna, Clitoridectomy and Infibulation or commonly a form of each three.7
• Sunna involves the removal of the clitorical prepuces with part of the clitoris remaining intact.
It is also the rarest form.8
• Clitoridectomy mutilation is the removal of the clitoris and all or part of the labia minora. This
particular form of FGM causes profound bleeding in the artery and extreme pain due to the sensitivity
of this area that is constituted by special receptacles of nerve endings that are clustered in the clitoris.9
• Infibulation10 the most harrowing and common, involves the removal of all the genital parts.
The vaginal introitus is obliterated except for a small posterior opening to allow the passing of urine
and menstrual blood. The skin of the inner surface of the labia majora is scraped and stapled with
strings and dwarf acacia thorns.11
The vast majority (85%) of FGM performed in Africa consist of clitoridectomy or excision.12 This
particular practice affects essentially the entire female population of Somali, Djibouti and Sudan
1 Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A Statistical Overview and Exploration of the Dynamics of Change, New York:
United Nations Children's Fund, July 2013 (hereinafter UNICEF 2013) pp. 6–7.
2 FGM in Africa: Information by Country (ACT 77/07/97)).
3 West Africans fight FM in France, IRIN Paris 23 June 2008
5 Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A Statistical Overview and Exploration of the Dynamics of Change, New York:
United Nations Children's Fund, July 2013 (hereinafter UNICEF 2013) pp 26 27
6 WHO | Classification of female genital mutilation ( hereinafter WHO 2014)
7 There has been put forth the notion of five forms of FGM. Type IV makes specific references to a range of miscellaneous
or unclassified practices including stretching of the clitoris and or labia, cauterization by burning of the clitoroious and
surrounding tissues, scraping (angurya cuts) of the vaginal orifice or cutting (gishri cuts) of the vagina and introduction of
corrosive substances or herbs into the vagina to cause bleeding or for the purpose of tightening or narrowing it. Type V
refers to symbolic practices that involve nicking or pricking the clitoris to release a few drops of blood. See also WHO
2014, FACTSHEET no 241 updated February 2014.
8 Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation: An Interagency Statement", New York: World Health Organization, 2008
(hereinafter WHO 2008) p25
9 WHO 2014 , FACTSHEET at 7
10 The term infibulation is derived from the Latin word fibula which means a clasp or pin
11 Comfort Momoh, "Female genital mutilation" in Comfort Momoh (ed.), Female Genital Mutilation, Oxford: Radcliffe
Publishing, 2005, p7
12 WHO 2014 FACTSHEET at 7.
(except for the non-Muslim population of southern Sudan) Southern Egypt, the Red Sea coast of
Ethiopia, northern Kenya, northern Nigeria and some portions of Mali. 13
It is estimated that worldwide eighty million women and girls are harmed by at least one of the above
practices. Over 130 million women and girls have experienced FGM in the 29 countries in which it is
concentrated. 14 Over eight million have been infibulated, a practice found largely in Djibouti, Eritrea,
Somalia and Sudan.15 More than 125 million girls and women alive today have been cut in the
countries in Africa and Middle East where FGM is concentrated.16 Egypt, Ethiopia and Nigeria have
the highest number of women and girls living with FGM, 27.2 million, 23.8 million and 19.9 million
respectively.17 There are no known health benefits.18
When is FGM performed?
FGM is performed on infants, girls, and women of all ages ranging from birth to age 15.19 However,
the age at which FGM is performed varies from country to country20 as it often depends upon the
girl’s country of origin and can vary widely even within countries. Quite frequently FGM is done
before a girl reaches puberty. Sometimes, however, it is done just before marriage or during a
woman’s first pregnancy. In some areas it is carried out during infancy (as early as a couple of days
after birth), in others during childhood, at the time of marriage, during a woman's first pregnancy or
after the birth of her first child. The most typical age is 7 - 10 years or just before puberty, although
there are indications that the age is decreasing in some areas.21 This decrease in age can be seen in
Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Kenya, and Mali. This has been attributed to making it easier to
hide it from authorities in countries where there may be laws against it, younger girls are less able to
resist,22 to reduce the trauma to the child and to avoid government interference and/or resistance from
children as they get older and form their own opinions.
Some statistics and key facts
Over 80 percent of girls who experience FGM are cut before the age of five in Nigeria, Mali, Eritrea,
Ghana, and Mauritania.23 The percentage is reversed in Somalia, Egypt, Chad and the Central African
Republic, where over 80 percent of those cut are cut between five and 14. 24 In Egypt, about 90 per
cent of girls who have undergone the procedure in Egypt are between the ages of 5 and 1425 whilst in
Ethiopia, 60 per cent or more of the girls who underwent the procedure are before the age of 5.26 Yet
in Yemen, more than 75 percent of girls undergo FGM whilst they are still neonates at the age of 2
weeks old.27 Females range from a few days old as amongst the Jewish Falashas in Ethiopia, and the
nomads in the Sudan. Mutilation is performed as young as 20 days old by the southern half of Mali;
28 within the first two weeks after birth in Mauritania; at about seven years old in Egypt and Central
Africa, where contrasted to adolescence with the Ibo of Nigeria. It is also performed before the birth
of the first child amongst the Ibo of mid-Western Nigeria.29
Some tribes perform FGM in groups when the girls are between the ages of seven during the warm
weather in August as in Kenya30 ; when girls are between ten and twelve with the Mossi of Upper
Volta 31 ; and at the ages of 14 or 15 just before they are married among the Sambura tribe in Kenya.32
However, other tribes perform mutilation when the female is in the advanced stages of her first
pregnancy as among the Urhobo and Isoko of the Bendel33 ; or as a premarital ritual amongst the Esan,
Etsake and Ijaw groups of the Bendel state. In Kenya and Tanzania, mutilation is performed on a
woman's wedding night.34
Although, one or more forms of FGM are reported to be practiced in more than twenty nine countries
in Africa and the Middle East, 35 countries national borders are not as significant as ethnic groups
practicing mutilation straddle boundaries.36 In many settings, FGM derives much of its meaning and
tenacity from its intimate association with ethnic identity.37 It is therefore more accurate to view
FGM as practiced by specific ethnic groups in Africa38. In Kenya, the Kikuyu practice mutilation39 but
the Luo do not; in Nigeria, the Yoruba40, the Ibo and the Hausa do41, but the Nupes and the Fulanis do
not and in Senegal, the Wolof do not practice mutilation.
27 UNICEF 2005 p 6
28Office of the Senior Coordinator for International Women's Issues Office of the Under Secretary for Global Affairs, U.S.
Department of State, June 2001 Mali: Report on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or Female Genital Cutting (FGC)
29 The Global Library of Women’s Medicine (www.glowm.com) Sapiens Publishing, Chapter 22 Female Genital
Mutilation Hassan Azadeh and Moustapha Touré p 276
30 Wambui, Grace. "'The Silent Scream'" Womennewsnetwork.net. Women News Network, 1 Jan. 2013.
31 Lapena, Michael, John Turner, and Susie Watkins. "International Criminology." Comparative Criminology. Web.
32 Sarro, Sidi. "Female Circumcision in Samburu, Kenya: Where Culture Is above the Law."Female Circumcision Forced
Marriage in Samburu, Kenya. Web.
33 Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, 30 Oct. 2008. Web.
34 Sexual Matters in Africa: The Cry of the Adolescent Girl." Sexual Matters in Africa: The Cry of the Adolescent Girl. Ed.
Vernellia Randall. Web. <http://academic.udayton.edu/race/06hrights/georegions/africa/Africa02.htm
35 UNICEF 2013 p30
36 ID pp 30- 41
38 End FGM: European Network. (2009, January
39 Kenya: Prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation. (2000, August) http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6ad5e76.html
40 Nigeria: Female Genital Mutilation. (2003, February 17). http://www.refworld.org/docid/3f7d4de3e.html
Lorraine Koonce Esq is an English Solicitor of England and Wales and a New York attorney.
Currently, she is an international law professor in the Anglo American Law degree program at the
Université de Cergy-Pontoise where she lectures on public international law, advanced constitutional
law and human rights. She also lectures at AGS' summer program on UNESCO’s infrastructures,
policies and its influence in the sphere of international relations. Her area of speciality is gender and
the human rights of women.