Posted by: Eirin | October 23, 2009

Efforts to eradicate female genital mutilation (FGM)

The below is a very uplifting report from colleagues in Kenya who have successfully involved men and boys in their efforts to eradicate female genital mutilation (FGM) and female genital cutting (FGC) in the refugee camps in Dadaab.

As defined by the WHO and UNFPA, FGM/C 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 (WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, 1997).  According to UNICEF statistics (2005), Kenya belongs to groups of countries in Africa where the FGM/C prevalence rate is between 25 and 79%. However, among the Somali community in Kenya the FGM/C prevalence rate stands at 97% (DHS 2003). This is almost the same pattern and magnitude of the practice witnessed among Somali refugees in the Dadaab refugee camps. A survey done by CARE in 2008 established that the refugee community (77.4%) regards FGM/C as one of the most common traditional practices. 

In Dadaab refugee camps, up to 97 % of all women have undergone either sunna (type II) or infibulation (type III). The Somali community is known to practise infibulation, popularly known as ‘Pharaonic’. Sunna is believed to have its basis in Islam and this has provided justification for adherence to the practice.

Besides reproductive health consequences such as difficulty and excessive bleeding during child birth, urine incontinence and lack of interest in sex due to damaged clitoris and labia minora, FGM/C also affects the education of girls due to retained menses. In a learning year of 37 weeks, there are 1, 665 lessons. Out of these, refugee girls of reproductive age who have undergone FGM/C miss 486 lessons in a year during their menstrual days, accounting for 30% of study time lost.

Men against FGM - skit 16 Days 2008

Men Against FGM performing skit during 16 Days of Activism in 2008.

Eradication of FGM/C in the Dadaab refugee camps was hampered by lack of support from men. The involvement of men in tackling the challenge is critical because they are the custodians of culture and gate keepers on religious issues. Indeed women believe that their daughters should be circumcised for men to accept them for marriage. On the other hand men dreaded the stigma of marrying uncircumcised girls and therefore reinforced the need to have them cut. In a baseline survey done by CARE in 2006, 43% of respondents agreed that men should not marry women who have not gone through FGM/C whereas 52% disagreed.

Men and boys involved in campaigns against FGM in Dadaab camps

Men and boys take part in campaigns against FGM/C in Dadaab refugee camps.

To respond to the FGM/C challenge, CARE made FGM/C prevention and response initiatives a major component of the SGBV programme. Some of the strategies used to curb FGM/C are use of religious scholars from reputed institutions like SUPKEM to persuade religious leaders in the camps to advocate against the practice. The religious scholars initiate dialogue with religious leaders to delink FGM from religion. Support groups such as Men Against FGM (MAF) and One Man Can Teach that bring together positive deviants among men were also used to tackle the challenge. Male youth in camps have similarly been targeted for behaviour change communication strategies such as intergenerational debates, advocacy campaigns participation in calendar events and sports, and participatory education theatre (PET). Information, education and communication materials like t-shirts and caps targeting men were also used.

Soccer ball used to sensitize boys on FGM through participation in sports

A soccer ball used to sensitize boys on FGM/C through participation in sports.

The efforts in eradicating FGM/C have led to the breaking of silence on the practice. Religious leaders can now discuss FGM/C with the rest of the community and both young and older men have joined efforts to eradicate FGM/C. Support groups such as MAF, which exist in all camps, One-Man-Can-Teach, and youth groups dominated by men consistently spearhead awareness campaigns on FGM/C in the camps. Also, the youth have begun changing their attitudes towards uncircumcised girls by openly declaring willingness to marry such girls. This has resulted into an increasing population of teenage girls who have not been circumcised. The CARE 2009 end of project survey showed that 37% of respondents agreed that men should not marry uncircumcised women whereas 62% disagreed. This means there has been a reduction in negative attitudes by 6% whereas positive attitudes have improved by 10% between 2006 and 2009 which is significant, considering the cultural and religious rigidities that anchor the practice.

T-shirt showing change of attitude of men and boys

A male youth wears a t-shirt that demonstrates the change of attitude by men and boyt towards FGM/C.

On the whole it is obvious that involving religious leaders, promoting access to formal education and focusing on men’s attitudes will have an impact on FGM/C. This may take time but the old adage is true: Rome was not built in a day.

We encourage also other colleagues in the field to share with us their best practices related to involving men and boys.

Click here for more information on what UNHCR is doing to combat FGM.



  1. I’m always amazed at how outraged people get about female genital cutting and how complacent they are about male genital cutting.

    Both male and female cutting remove the function of healthy normal pleasure-receptive tissue. Both are done by coercion and force. Both cause hundreds of deaths and thousands of hospitalizations annually. Both are disfigurements. Both are often defended by the victims.

    The male foreskin includes over half his pleasure-receptive nerve endings, protects the glans and mucosa, and affords an exquisite frictionless rolling/gliding action during intimacy.

    Foreskin feels REALLY good. Protect boys too.


    I need signatures. If Dr. Syedna bans this practice, the Bohris will completely stop FGM. Please sign.

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