International organizations such as the UN and WHO have developed FGM policies pertaining to different continents and globally. These broad international policies and the initiatives taken in Africa and Europe are closely linked.
The following is a chronological overview of major international developments in policies regarding FGM.
|1950’s||The issue of FGM highlighted in the Committee of Human Rights for the first time.|
|1960’s -1970’s||Awareness campaigns on the effects of FGM by women inside and outside of Africa.|
|1976||The WHO spoke out against FGM and called upon all governments to eradicate it.|
|1979||At a conference in Khartoum, the WHO condemned all forms of FGM and called upon governments to:|
- implement clear political policies
- increase education of communities and health professionals
- prohibit doctors to perform FGM
|1984||Establishment Inter African Committee (IAC).|
|1980’s – 1990’s||Growing recognition of FGM as a violation of the rights of children and women, and human rights in general. FGM has been recognized in treaties as a violation of rights of children and women. More and more countries have signed these treaties.|
|1994 – 1995||Attention paid to FGM at/in the:|
- International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), Cairo, September 1994
- Beijing Platform of Action, September 1995
|1997||Publication of Joint Statement of WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA. This was updated in 2008.|
|2001||Establishment of the Donors Working Group on FGM/C.|
|2002||Start of the Campaign Stop FGM:|
- Partly as a result of immigration from cultures in which FGM is performed, European policy makers pledged to support the global fight against FGM.
- Start of numerous campaigns and activities in Africa.
|2003||The Inter African Committee announced February 6 to be the International Day of Zero Tolerance Against Female Genital Mutilation.|
|Maputo Protocol: This protocol of the African Union (all 53 countries) aims to strengthen and promote women’s rights on the African continent. In this document, violence against women, including FGM, is condemned. Until date, 46 of the 53 African countries have signed the Protocol, and 28 countries have ratified it, including 15 countries in which FGM is being practiced.|
|2005||UNICEF launched the social convention model. This model is based on the gradual establishment of a social norm in which female circumcision is no longer performed nor tolerated. The social convention model has been applied in five African countries (Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Senegal and Sudan).|
|2006||Fatwa against FGM declared by the top Islamic leader in Egypt.|
|2007||Declaration against FGM of Dutch imams, based on the 2006 fatwa.|
|2008||Publication of the WHO Interagency Statement, an update of the joint statement of 1997.|
|2008 – 2012||Joint Programme and Trust Fund of UNFPA and UNICEF.|
|The goals of this programme were: 1) a 40% decrease of FGM among 0-15 year old girls in 17 African countries and 2) at least one country free of FGM in 2012. The experience of this programme can serve as a model for addressing FGM in Europe and the Netherlands. See the ongoing reports on the website.|
|2009||Adoption of a resolution by the European Parliament on March 24, 2009, which calls upon Member States to develop national policies for the entire chain of prevention, early detection, reporting, aftercare, investigation and prosecution.|
|2011||Fatwa against FGM, pronounced in Mauritania by religious leaders from ten African countries.|
|Adoption of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention).|
|2012||Adoption of a resolution by the European Parliament on June 14, 2012, on ending female genital mutilation.|
|Adoption of a resolution by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 20, 2012, calling for a global ban on female genital mutilation.|
|2013||Publication of a report of the European Commission aimed at better understanding and combating FGM in the EU: Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council.|
|UNHCR publication on FGM among asylum seekers in Europe: Too Much Pain: Female Genital Mutilation and Asylum in the European Union – A Statistical Overview.|
|Strategy paper of the European Commission on stepping up the fight against FGM within and outside the European Union (press release).|
|2014||Publication of the Council of Europe and Amnesty International about FGM and the Istanbul Convention: The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. A tool to end FGM.|
There is currently no specific EU legislation with regards to FGM. However, the topic has been addressed in various sectors of the European legal system, including the Council of Europe and the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality of the European Parliament.
A first step towards EU legislation is the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (the Istanbul Convention) of 2011. This Convention of the Council of Europe aims to prevent and combat violence against women (including FGM). The convention is a binding legal treaty for countries that have signed it. It creates conditions for the development of legislation to protect women against all forms of violence and to prosecute violent crimes against women. More and more countries have ratified the Convention. On November 18th, 2015, this was done by the Netherlands. It entered into force on March 1, 2016.
In 2014, Amnesty International and the Council of Europe published a guide to draw attention to the Istanbul Convention and its provisions on FGM among policy makers, health professionals and activists.
The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence(Council of Europe/Amnesty International, 2014)
Investigation and prosecution
Many national governments have prohibited the circumcision of girls. In many countries, including the Netherlands, this ban has been placed under the general law. Some countries have developed specific legislation, such as Sweden, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Austria and Norway. The report ‘Responding to female genital mutilation in Europe’, which was published by the International Centre for Reproductive Health (ICRH, Belgium) in 2009, provides information on this subject.
Responding to female genital mutilation. Striking the right balance in Europe between prosecution and prevention(ICRH, 2009)
To date, the investigation and prosecution of FGM in the Netherlands has not yet led to any convictions. From previous research and publications much is already known about the effects of policies and regulations with regards to FGM in Belgium, France, the United States, United Kingdom, Sweden and Germany. These studies show that especially France has been successful in the criminal investigation and prosecution of FGM. The French criminal approach has been analysed in the research report ‘Criminal investigation and prosecution of female genital mutilation – The French practice’ (in Dutch, but with an English summary).
Abstract Criminal investigation and prosecution of female genital mutilation – The French practice (WODC, Ministry of Justice/Boom Legal Publishers, 2010)
In 2016 Annemarie Middelburg promoted on the topic of human and children’s rights in relation to FGM (see also chapter 17 of ‘The Routledge International Handbook of Children’s Rights Studies’, 2016).
Worldwide prevalence and risk of FGM
An estimated 100-140 million girls and women worldwide have been circumcised. Annually, three million girls are at risk of being circumcised.
Variation in prevalence
There can be significant differences in the prevalence of FGM between countries and between regions within countries. Click here for information about the situation in specific countries.
Reliable or not, to a certain extent there is information available about most ‘traditional’ countries of origin in Africa (and Yemen) on the occurrence of FGM. But about many ‘emerging’ countries, particularly in Asia and the Middle East, we still know very little. Also for the countries in Europe and other immigration countries (e.g., Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA) there are no reliable and accurate figures on FGM available. Important sources for prevalence figures include USAID, UNICEF and WADI.