A Research Agenda to End Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) in a Generation

Council research contributes to the global evidence base on FGM/C and influences policies and programs to end the practice.

The Issue

Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) describes a range of harmful practices involving cutting, removing, and sometimes sewing up external female genitalia for nonmedical reasons. UNICEF estimates that at least 200 million girls and women in the 30 countries where the practice is most prevalent have undergone FGM/C and that as many as 30 million girls under the age of 15 are at risk.

While considered a social norm in many cultures, FGM/C is a violation of the rights of girls and women and has no health benefits. It can cause immediate and lifelong physical, psychological, and sexual trauma, as well as difficulties during childbirth. FGM/C reflects deep-rooted gender-based inequalities, constitutes extreme discrimination and violence against girls and women, and is considered a criminal act in many countries.

Historically low levels of funding for FGM/C research have contributed to a global evidence base suffering from many critical gaps, such as:

  • Lack of contextually specific knowledge of the drivers and consequences of FGM/C, making generalization difficult;
  • Limited and poor-quality monitoring and evaluation of FGM/C interventions;
  • Data with poor validity, because of limited methodological development;
  • Lack of theory-based intervention and evaluation designs; and
  • Fragmented documentation of research uptake and use for meaningful policy and program changes.

Resolutions by the UN Commission on the Status of Women in 2010, the African Union and European Union in 2011–12, and most importantly the 2012 UN General Assembly have all called for intensified global efforts to end FGM/C within one generation.

The Progress

The goal of the Council’s research initiatives and technical assistance related to FGM/C is to provide program managers, development partners, and advocates with insightful explanations of the reasons for and dynamics of the practice, and empirical evidence on the feasibility and effectiveness of interventions that encourage its abandonment.

The Council has also strengthened research methods and expanded the capacity of national organizations and individuals to implement evidence-based interventions and undertake high-quality research, monitoring, and evaluation on this sensitive topic.

Building on two decades of Council research, in February 2015 the Council was awarded a contract from the UK Department for International Development (DFID) titled, “Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C) Research Programme.” Through this award, the Council will support a significant program of research in Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia, and Sudan, and potentially in Burkina Faso, Gambia, and Senegal.

The goals of the FGM/C Research Program are to:

  • Dramatically expand the body of evidence on the most effective and cost-effective approaches to ending FGM/C in different contexts;
  • Demonstrably influence strategic investments, policies, and programs to end FGM/C; and
  • Contribute to ending FGM/C within a generation and reducing FGM/C by at least 30% in 10 countries within 5 years.

The research program will be organized around four themes:

  • Building the picture of where, when, and why FGM/C is practiced through a series of explanatory analyses of existing survey datasets, complemented by qualitative studies among various populations at different stages of abandoning the practice.
  • A blend of retrospective evaluations, cost analyses, and case studies of ongoing interventions with prospective implementation research and impact evaluations of new interventions, implemented as multisite studies, to broaden understanding of the benefits and costs of a wide range of approaches to FGM/C abandonment.
  • Understanding the wider impacts of FGM/C on the lives of girls, women, and their families, and the implications of sustaining or abandoning the practice of FGM/C—as well as other harmful practices such as early marriage and gender-based violence—on gender norms and relations.
  • Improving research into FGM/C through developing and testing new or improved methods and measures and building the capacity of national researchers to design and implement high-quality research.

The FGM/C Research Program is implemented by a consortium led by the Population Council. Consortium partners include: the Africa Coordinating Centre for the Abandonment of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (ACCAF) at the University of Nairobi; the Gender and Reproductive Health and Rights Resource and Advocacy Center (GRACE) at Ahfad University for Women (AUW), Khartoum; the Global Research and Advocacy Group (GRAG), Dakar; Population Reference Bureau (PRB); MannionDaniels Ltd.; and the INDEPTH Network. Two eminent researchers, Dr. Gerry Mackie of the University of California, San Diego, and Dr. Bettina Shell-Duncan of the University of Washington, Seattle, complete the team.

The Impact

By addressing FGM/C as a human rights abuse and a contributor to gender inequality, Council efforts are advancing the multidisciplinary and multinational efforts needed to eliminate the practice of FGM/C in many countries and achieve the ambitious global goal of ending FGM/C within one generation.

Highlights from the Council’s previous and ongoing work on FGM/C include:

Key Staff (2)

Journal Articles (8)

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Research Publications (20)

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News & Views (10)

Curricula, Toolkits, and Guides (1)

Multimedia (1)