A Blight On The World's Women

'Death, severe pain, hemorrhage, tetanus, sepsis, recurrent urinary tract infections, pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, increased complications of subsequent pregnancy and childbirth, and adverse psychological and sexual effects - these are just a few examples of the extreme consequences of Female Genital Mutilation,’ said Hamid Rushwan, Chief Executive of the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) -  the body bringing together 124 obstetrical and gynecological associations worldwide -  commenting on the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation (6 February 2010).

Rushwan continued: ‘On 6 February, FIGO reaffirms its position on the need to eliminate Female Genital Mutilation, or FGM [which *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], and to outlaw its medicalisation. 

‘It is a traditional practice with known harmful effects on women’s reproductive and psychological health. It is practised in about 30 countries, including parts of West, East and Central Africa, some parts of the Middle East and South Asia. The scale of the problem is immense: around 140 million women and girls worldwide have already undergone this trauma; each year, tragically, a further three million join them.’  

He added: ‘One major highlight of the recent FIGO World Congress in Cape Town was the launch of FIGO’s DVD on FGM - "The Cutting Tradition: insights into female genital mutilation" - in collaboration with filmmaker Nancy Durrell McKenna of SafeHands for Mothers, and award-winning actress Meryl Streep as narrator. Our film aims to educate health professionals worldwide on the issues surrounding this highly controversial subject.’ 

He explained: ‘Migration has brought women into contact with health professionals who often do not understand the cultural significance of the tradition. These providers can play a unique role in working towards the elimination of FGM and ensuring that girls and women enjoy the full extent of human rights and freedoms, and are treated with dignity and understanding - it is therefore vital that they are made fully aware of the consequences of FGM and how to manage them within the cultural contexts of women’s lives.’  

FIGO passed a resolution at the 1994 Montreal FIGO General Assembly condemning FGM, and the FIGO Committee for the Ethical Aspects of Human Reproduction and Women’s Health has two guidelines opposing it, the most recent concerning medicalisation.  

He ended: ‘Medicalisation underestimates the overall physical and psychological complications of FGM, creating an implied approval of the practice. FIGO strongly condemns this. We believe that all women and girls have the right to live their lives free from all forms of violence, so we are committed to working alongside other global organisations to help eradicate the scourge of FGM once and for all.’ 

In 2008 the United Nations released a statement - ‘Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation’ - and called for its eradication within a generation. Ten agencies - OHCHR, UNAIDS, UNDP, UNECA, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNIFEM and WHO - supported this announcement, and their position was echoed by numerous NGOs and professional health and rights associations. 




* Source: WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, 1997

  • The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) is a professional organisation that brings together obstetrical and gynecological associations from all over the world. FIGO has a vision that women of the world achieve the highest possible standards of physical, mental, reproductive and sexual health and wellbeing throughout their lives.
  • FIGO is dedicated to the improvement of women’s health and rights and to the reduction of disparities in healthcare available to women and newborns, as well as to advancing the science and practice of obstetrics and gynecology.
  • The organisation pursues its mission through advocacy, programmatic activities, capacity strengthening of member associations and education and training.
  • Communications contact: Alexandra Gilpin,  [email protected],  020 7928 1166 www.figo.org

What is the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation? This day is held each year on 6 February to promote global awareness of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)/cutting and to work towards its eradication.

International Efforts to Eliminate FGM  Following the 2008 joint statement by the UN, there was a resolution by the 61st World Health Assembly denouncing FGM as a violation of human rights and a barrier in the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. The resolution calls on member states to accelerate actions towards the elimination of the practice, including the enactment and enforcement of legislation to protect women and girls from FGM and all forms of violence; the development of social and psychological support services; and greater research, guideline development and community-based  action.

The Role of Health Care Professionals and their Associations The 1994 Montreal FIGO General Assembly Resolution on FGM encourages FIGO’s societies to urge national governments to sign up to international human rights agreements condemning the practice and to support the work of national authorities, NGOs and intergovernmental organisations working to eliminate it.  The FIGO committee for ethical aspects of reproductive health has two guidelines opposing FGM, the most recent concerning medicalisation (London, 2006). FIGO continues to recommend that individual obstetricians and gynecologists explain and educate about the consequences of FGM while supporting community members opposing its continuation.  Organisations and individuals are further encouraged to support research on the prevalence and effect of the practice, while opposing any attempts to medicalise the procedure or allow its performance in health establishments by health professionals. 

Useful links

Female Genital Mutilation (FIGO, Montreal 1994)  

Violence Against Women (FIGO, Copenhagen 1997)

61st World Health Assembly Resolution on Female Genital Mutilation - May 2008 http://www.who.int/gb/ebwha/pdf_files/A61/A61_R16-en.pdf  

Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation - An Interagency Statement, 2008 http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/fgm/9789241596442/en/index.html