Evidence to End FGM/C: Research to Help Girls and Women Thrive

A Population Council-led research consortium which generates quality evidence to accelerate abandonment of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in different contexts.

The Issue

Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) is a harmful practice that involves cutting, removing, and sometimes sewing up external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. 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 is estimated that more than 200 million girls and women have undergone FGM/C around the world, and approximately 3.6 million girls are cut each year.

Despite intensified efforts to eliminate FGM/C since a General Assembly Resolution in 2012, critical evidence gaps have hindered a comprehensive, evidence-based response. For example, there’s historically been low levels of funding for FGM/C research; of the interventions that have been funded, there has also been challenges with the documentation of this evidence and of the quality of the monitoring and evaluations to understand what is and is not working. Additionally, many findings around FGM/C are context-specific, which makes making generalizations difficult; and there are a limited number of Africa-based researchers able to respond to FGM/C evidence needs.

The Progress

To help address the gaps and accelerate a comprehensive, evidence-based response to ending FGM/C, The Population Council created The Evidence to End FGM/C: Research to Help Girls and Women Thrive project, an African-led research consortium that generates high-quality evidence to influence strategic investment, policy, and programmes to eliminate FGM/C. This five-year project works in seven African countries – Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia, and Sudan – to dramatically expand the body of high-quality evidence on the most effective approaches to ending FGM/C in different contexts.

The research programme is organized around four themes:

  1. Building the evidence base of where, when, and why FGM/C is practiced through explanatory analyses of existing survey datasets and qualitative studies among various populations at different stages of abandoning the practice.
  2. Assessing a range of interventions to address FGM/C abandonment that utilize a blend of retrospective evaluations, case studies of ongoing interventions, prospective implementation research, impact evaluations and cost analyses. Multi-site implementation studies will help generalize findings.
  3. Understanding the wider impacts of FGM/C on the lives of girls, women, and their families, and the implications of abandoning the practice—as well as other harmful practices such as early marriage and gender-based violence—on gender norms and relations.
  4. Improving research into FGM/C by:
    • ​​Addressing the challenges of ethically and accurately measuring prevalence and FGM/C status
    • Improving definition and measurement of social norms and norms changes
    • Enhancing the application of "theory of change" to research and to informing programming and evaluation designs on FGM/C abandonment
    • Increasing the rigor, relevance, and utlity of scientific descriptions of FGM/C interventions and their evaluation

The Impact

Through high-quality research and creation of a vibrant South-North research consortium, the project has been addressing some of the most important challenges in measuring FGM/C and abandonment interventions. The resulting body of knowledge and evidence is helping to shape FGM/C investments, policies, and programmes to be more impactful and scalable. The consortium is improving the capacity of national, regional, and global stakeholders to engage with and respond to the FGM/C evidence needs. 

Research is ongoing, but so far, the programme has:

  • Identified hotspots where FGM/C is still widely practiced and identified areas where people are at higher risk of FGM/C;
  • Improved understanding of FGM/C prevalence and risk factors and informed the response from health practitioners and policymakers alike to better target efforts and investments to curb and eradicate FGM/C;
  • Strengthened measurement and developed guidelines on FGM/C to improve the use of data, including in nationally-representative surveys;
  • And built on-the-ground capacity of FGM/C researchers in Africa.

Through its complementary relationship with the UNFPA-UNICEF’s Joint Programme on FGM/C: Accelerating Change and the Girl Generation, this project will directly support country programmes with needed evidence and support the ambitious goal of ending FGM/C within a generation.

Principal Investigator

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