Today is the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C). Worldwide, 100 to 145 million women have been subjected to this practice, which can range from nicking the skin to a total removal of the external female genitalia. Every day, 6,000 girls are at risk.
Zero Tolerance Day is an opportunity to raise awareness about the harmful effects of FGM/C and unite communities around the world in calling for an end to the practice. FGM/C is practiced across cultures and religions—though notably, major religious doctrines do not mandate the practice. It is most common in Africa, the Middle East, and some countries in Asia. However, it also can be found in the United States, Europe, and other places where migrants bring their cultural traditions with them. Parents and communities practice FGM/C based on cultural beliefs about health, hygiene, and women’s sexuality. In many cases, it is considered a traditional rite of passage.
However, research has consistently shown that all forms of the practice harm women’s health. It causes serious pain, trauma, and frequently severe physical complications such as bleeding, infections, or even death. In the long term, it can also lead to recurrent infections, infertility, and difficult or dangerous childbirth that threatens the lives of both mother and infant.
Since the early 1990s, USAID has supported FGM/C abandonment efforts. In September 2000, the Agency officially established the elimination of FGM/C as part of its development agenda, and issued an official policy and strategy on the topic. The single most important aspect of ending this practice is involving the community. USAID focuses on enabling and empowering communities to make their own collective choice to abandon FGM/C.
For example, in West Africa, USAID has provided support to the Tostan project that incorporates health and rights information about FGM/C into a basic education curriculum that also teaches problem solving, math, and reading. As a result, thousands of villages in eight African countries in both West and East Africa have publicly abandoned FGM/C and other harmful traditional practices over the past 15 years. Another program in Senegal, called the Grandmother Project, has focused on empowering grandmothers and other elderly women to lead community discussions and call for change.