Image by Charles Deluvio


Benedetta Mayer

The sixth of February was the international day against female genital mutilation (FGM).  This practice is now considered a violation of human rights, involving the right to life, gender equality, mental and physical integrity, as well as non-discrimination rights. These rough practices put many lives in jeopardy every year. As the European Union reports, an estimated 68 million girls worldwide are at risk of undergoing this practice by 2030. 

Beginning to delve into the topic, the female genital mutilation phenomenon includes a number of practices that involve the total or partial removal of external female genitalia, aimed at girls aged 0-15 years old. It represents a serious form of gender-based violence, which leaves deep physical and psychological scars in the lives of its victims. No type of precaution or protection, such as anesthesia, is used to avoid causing serious health problems and psychological traumas to those undergoing the practice. 

There are no therapeutic reasons, but only cultural and non-medical ones. A mix of sociocultural factors within families and communities make this cruelty happen, and these include the existence of social conventions and norms to comply with due to social pressure, the common belief that this practice prepares the girl for her adulthood and marriage, cultural ideas about femininity and their role in society, religious reasons, even if the religion itself does not prescribe this and many other motives. 

More than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia (data reported from WHO, 2020). Other forms of female genital mutilation have been reported in other countries, such as South America. The matter is of increasing interest due to the increasing migration, which boosts the number of girls and women subject to this practice living outside their country of origin and thus bringing this cruelty in Europe, Australia, and North America. 

Although the phenomenon is spread all over the world, the country on which we have the most certain and reliable data in Africa, where the FGM is practiced in the most extensive way. Taking into account the variability in incidence across countries, it is more than 85% in Sudan, Somalia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Mali, less than 30% in Senegal, Central African Republic, and Nigeria, and 5% in Niger. 

However, the situation in Europe is also critical. Even if the FGM is illegal and some member countries persecute it, it is estimated by the European Union and the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) that about 600 thousand women have been victims of this practice, and another 180 thousand are at risk in 13 European countries. In Italy, it is estimated that 15-24% of the total population of 76040 girls, 0-18 years old, coming from countries in which the FGM is practiced, are at risk. In our country, the girls at greater risk are mostly from Egypt.  

Being the voice for these women is the main purpose of many institutions worldwide. Many programs have been developed, involving people of any age and profession, which fight to cease this illegal practice, throughout the sensitization about the topic, and the increasing awareness of the irreversible damages that it causes. In 2019, a group of five Kenyan students, “The Restores”, developed an app, named “i-Cut”, to help the victims of FGM, by providing support, helping to find accommodation, and above all, exposing the crime to authorities. 

It’s now the time to invest, promote and translate all the promises into actions and realities. This battle not only implies women but every human being. Promoting solidarity among women is already a small step towards the eradication of the nightmare of thousands of young women.