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Hilary Burrage is the author of two books on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM):

15.07.14 FGM Book1 jacket jpegEradicating Female Genital Mutilation: A UK Perspective (Ashgate/Routledge, 2015) is a book about pathways to eradicating FGM in the UK and a detailed handbook-textbook which covers global and historic/political issues from a socio-economic as well as educational, legal and medical aspects. There is an accompanying website for updates and a Twitter account [book available from the publisher; or from / (inc. e-format) and high street booksellers].

16.01.22 Female Mutilation book pic (3)Female Mutilation: The truth behind the horrifying global practice of female genital mutilation (New Holland Publishers, 2016) comprises 70+ ‘narratives’ from survivors, family and community members, activists and professionals in two dozen countries, five continents, also with an accompanying website to bring all the contributors together, and a Twitter handle [book available from the Guardian bookshop; or from /, or high street booksellers].

Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation was launched on 4 November 2015 at The Guardian offices in London (introductory talk here) and both books were presented at a reception hosted by the Norwegian Embassy for the Inter-African Committee FGM Conference at the United Nations in Geneva, on 10 May 2016.

Reviews of Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation:
> Hilary Burrage has written the most definitive book ever on FGM.  An invaluable tool to help eradicate it worldwide. A personal triumph.  (The Guardian)
> … Outraged at ineffective child protection, Burrage provides a comprehensive, scholarly yet accessible guide – the first ethically correct textbook in the world about FGM and among the best ever – to professionals and all people of conscience.  (Tobe Levin von Gleichen, Harvard and Oxford Universities)
> The best book ever written about the sensitive subject of FGM : ***** (Sayydah Garrett, Pastoralist Child Foundation

Reviews of Female Mutilation: The truth behind the horrifying global practice of female genital mutilation:
> This is the essential companion volume to Hilary Burrage's 'Eradicating Female Mutilation'. While the latter provides a broad and deep perspective on the practice of FGM, this book gives space for the voices of victims and practitioners in the field. The author is to be commended for bringing together such a wide range of personal narratives... to consign a vile abuse of women to the dustbin of history. You will not fail to be engaged... by these accounts, even though some are harrowing. "Female Mutilation' is a landmark contribution to the literature on FGM.: Amazon ***** (Ron Stewart and another reader)

Hilary is a consultant sociologist and journalist. This is Hilary's professional website, to share thoughts on sociological analysis, social policy and good practice.

Economics Is Why FGM Persists (Oxford Seminar On The Elephants In The Room)

November 23, 2017

17 November 2017: A workshop entitled Elephants in the Room: Hurdles – and Hope – for Ending Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) challenged us to consider some ‘elephants in the room’ in how we think about that particular form of gendered physical and psychological abuse.  The event, co-sponsored by the International Gender Studies Centre at Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford, and the UnCUT/VOICES Press, enabled those present to share thoughts on aspects of FGM which may be both blatantly obvious and difficult to discuss. My contribution, summarised below, was on the Economics of FGM.


The ‘four Es’ of Eradicating FGM are Engagement, Education, Enforcement and Economics.

But perhaps there is also a fifth ‘E’ – because in the context of this seminar Economics is the Elephant in the room….

This post is a preliminary foray – hopefully to be followed later by more detailed exploration – into the relevance of economics to the eradication of FGM.

Commodified bodies
Of course FGM is not the ‘only’ way in which the female body is commodified.  Child, early and forced marriage (CEFM) also involve the sale of women and girls as chattels, as does human trafficking (most often of females, and thought to be one of the biggest long-established global ‘businesses’).

All these abuses are instances of patriarchy incarnate – the literal imposition of (some) men’s wills on female bodies.  All are about women and girls as chattels or commodities, ‘owned’ and to be sold on the open market for whatever sum is achievable.

Until recently there has been little emphasis on the wider economics of FGM.  It is generally recognised that in some communities the ‘cutters’ (mutilators) enjoy high status and considerable income to older women (not all cutters are women), so finding alternative and attractive employment opportunities is difficult.

Ownership of resources (and power)
Money often equates to power: FGM is a route to financial supremacy.  For instance, for Sande Society cutters it provides not only financial leverage but also real power within some communities – subject always to the say-so of the (male) Poro leaders. (Women who are not ‘cut’ may not be permitted by male chiefs to own land because they are deemed still to be minors; but conversely even senior women generally have no rights to decide which men may own resources.)

Similarly, FGM followed by marriage to ‘appropriate’ men can provide assurance of future care for a girl/woman’s parents in old age. The ‘guarantee’ that a future bride is ‘pure’ is provided by the evidence of intact FGM suturing. The mechanism for securing the flow of funds intergenerationally is also linked to appropriate marriage.

In most traditional communities the interests of the group as a whole are supreme; little or no significance in the rights of the individual is acknowledged, or even recognised.

Beyond these matters there is often little consideration of the economics of FGM.

Pioneering activists
The idea that economics is fundamental to the eradication of FGM is not new. In 1994 one of the leading pioneers in this field, the late Efua Dorkenoo proposed that international development aid should be reduced by 50% if the recipient country could not demonstrate proven measures to abolish FGM, a practice which, she pointed out, places extra burdens on (already) inadequately resourced health care and delivery.

Two decades later, in 2014, Navi Pillay made the point that eradicating FGM means freedom from pain and trauma, which releases women to develop talents and skills to the benefit of both themselves and their families and communities.

Impacts at every level
Slowly, then, it is beginning to be seen that FGM has wide economic implications as well as direct personal and health impacts.  Some studies of the damaging effects of FGM on mothers and babies at birth and in the early years have suggested economic costs, and similar harm such as rape has begun to be studied.  Now the economic focus is widening to the group, community and (inter-)national level.

Who benefits from FGM?
Those who perform FGM (‘cutters’) are often paid and gain status – sometimes very substantial sums of money and big influence in their social group.  (It follows that trading ‘cutter’ status for eg herding a small flock of goats may not appeal.)  Fathers who sell their ‘pure’ daughters for a substantial dowry / bride-price benefit. Elderly parents may also benefit from good care (a sort-of pension) because their daughter’s arranged marriage was ‘good’ and their son-in-law can provide support.  Husbands and/or wives who purchase a girl post-FGM for domestic service and the production of more children and, obviously, if there was a big social occasion at the time of the FGM, those who provide what westerners call leisure services (catering etc), will also benefit.

Who loses from FGM?
The biggest loser in the direct sense is the girl or woman who is ‘cut’.  Her education is probably thereby brought to an end, she is often at risk of premature child-bearing, and her health (even life) is usually compromised.  Likewise, her children are at risk, because her health is damaged so child care is more difficult, and also because if she dies her infant children are also at significant risk of death if there is no-one to care for them.  The local community and wider society also suffer because women in poor health cannot contribute as they should to the economy; and already challenged community, health, social and legal services across that society are unnecessarily stretched.

Who pays to eradicate FGM?
Local activists are the most vulnerable in terms of failure of support resourcing; they often ‘work’ for little or no recompense and their goodwill efforts may be squandered if there is no back-up.  Many state, non-governmental, national and international / global services have to allocate scarce resources to this issue. The economy suffers at every level from local to global, and families are poorer than they would otherwise be, because of necessarily higher taxation (and other costs) which could be avoided.

Approaches to FGM eradication
FGM is a social epidemic; it requires epidemiological analysis.

The Public Health model is ideal as an approach to encompass all four ‘Es’ of FGM eradication.  It provides for every aspect from personal and health care, via prevention and education, to enforcement and political policies.  There is till a long way to go however before this model can be articulated with maximum effect: the multiple approaches which must gel are not yet cohesive.

Nonetheless the socio-economic structures which FGM eradication, like the eradication of other gendered violence (patriarchy incarnate) must address, are becoming clearer.  On one matter there is already considerable certainty:

FGM is socially contagious, but it is not caused by viruses or natural environmental hazards.  It is therefore particularly open at at least some levels to direct economic leverage.  As we all know, money quite often speaks louder than words.  Budgetary constraints often carry more weight than ethical considerations.

If human agents (people) can be persuaded to stop inflicting FGM it would instantly become history. A better understanding of the economics behind this harmful traditional practice provides one lever towards that end.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~


Books by Hilary Burrage on female genital mutilation

Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation: A UK Perspective (Hilary Burrage, Ashgate / Routledge 2015).   Full contents and reviews   HERE.

FEMALE MUTILATION: The truth behind the horrifying global practice of female genital mutilation  (Hilary Burrage, New Holland Publishers 2016).   Full contents and reviews   HERE.


There is a free FGM hotline for anyone in the UK: 0800 028 3550, or

Details of NHS Specialist Services for FGM here.

More info and posts on FGM here.

Activists, service providers and researchers may like to join the LinkedIn group Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): Information, reports and research, which has several hundred members from around the world.

The (free) #NoFGM Daily News carries reports of all items shared on Twitter that day about FGM – brings many organisations and developments into focus.

Also available to follow at no cost or obligation is the #NoFGM_USA Daily News.

Twitter accounts:          @NoFGM_UK  @NoFGMBookUK @FemaleMutlnBook  @FGMStatement  @NoFGM_USA @NoFGM_Kenya  @NoFGM_France  @GuardianEndFGM [tag for all: #NoFGM] and @StopMGM.

Facebook page: #NoFGM – a crime against humanity

Email contact: via Hilary


[NB The Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children, which has a primary focus on FGM, is clear that in formal discourse any term other than ‘mutilation’ concedes damagingly to the cultural relativists – though the terms employed may of necessity vary in informal discussion with those who by tradition use alternative vocabulary. See the Feminist Statement on the Naming and Abolition of Female Genital Mutilation,  The Bamako Declaration: Female Genital Mutilation Terminology and the debate about Anthr/Apologists on this website.]


This article concerns approaches to the eradication specifically of FGM.  I am also categorically opposed to MGM, but that is not the focus of this particular piece.

Anyone wishing to offer additional comment on more general considerations around infant and juvenile genital mutilation is asked please to do so via these relevant dedicated threads.

Discussion of the general issues re M/FGM will not be published unless they are posted on these dedicated pages. Thanks.



Three Days With Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation, Washington DC, October 2017: Walk-A-Thon to #EndFGM

October 22, 2017

What an experience this visit to Washington DC turned out to be! Angela Peabody, the Founder-Director of Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation, made us all so warmly welcome as we met again friends and colleagues from different parts of the world, and discussed various issues with some of the leading medical and legal female genital mutilation (FGM) experts in the USA. And we saw the 2017 GWPF nominees receive their awards for outstanding service to end that cruel and harmful traditional practice.

My (post-event) thoughts on what we discussed follow, with a focus on

*Medical ‘vs’ legal understandings
*Male ‘vs’ female circumcision (MGM and FGM) and human rights / bodily integrity
*Patriarchy incarnate, eg FGM and child, early and forced marriage (CEFM)
*Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
*Data on FGM prevalence
*Surgical and other treatment and support for FGM survivors
*’Market segmentation’ to maximise the impact of #EndFGM programmes.

Read more…

Letter To The Guardian On FGM And Girls’ Education

October 7, 2017

I was pleased to have a letter published today in the main Guardian, and yesterday in Society Guardian, in response to an article of 4 October.
The original piece, supported by Opportunity International UK and entitled ‘Educating girls: the key to tackling poverty‘, was a report on a Guardian Roundtable discussion which considered several obstacles to girls’ education including taboos around menstruation and child marriage, but did not mention FGM.
Here is what I wrote:

Read more…

Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation Awardees 2015-2017

September 1, 2017

The 2017 Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation (GWPF) Walk-A-Thon to End FGM is in Washington DC on Saturday 21 October.  (Register here.) In 2016 I was thrilled to be made an GWPF Awardee, and in 2017 perhaps more delighted still by an invitation to join the newly established on-going GWPF Awards Committee.  It was incredibly difficult to select our nominations in each of the awarding categories, but listed below are those eventually named for 2017, along with the names of 2015 and 2016 Awardees.

Read more…

Ending Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Requires Support For Community Activists

July 18, 2017

Today I published a piece in the Huffington Post entitled The ‘Cuts’ And ‘Cutting’ – And So Female Genital Mutilation Continues In The UK.  The eradication of FGM is critically dependent not only on the skills and leverage of the leading organisations in the field, but also on the goodwill and support of activists in their communities.  Often these activists report that their work is not resourced and that they are therefore unable to deliver the #EndFGM message as they would wish – a matter of especial importance when ‘vacation cutting’ is about to start.

Read more…

FGM (Khatna / Khafz) Persists In Bohra India – UK Politicians Can Help To Stop It

June 28, 2017

The practice of female genital mutilation in India remains little known – not least because the Bohra community which continues with it insists on silence about what they call ‘Khatna’ (male or female ‘circumcision’) or ‘Khafz’ (explicitly the female version). But slowly this harmful traditional practice, like early ‘marriage’ in wider Indian society, is being exposed; and now some outspoken Bohra women want the international community to support their #EndFGM demands.
British politicians can add considerable weight to this campaign.

Read more…

Brussels Places Research On Female Genital Mutilation Centre-Stage

June 10, 2017

The 2nd International Academic Seminar on FGM was an excellent opportunity to exchange information, meet new colleagues and consolidate old friendships.  For these reasons alone attendance was well worthwhile, but for me this two day meeting on 8 and 9 June 2017 also prompted afreshsome considerations around the fundamentals of the challenge to #EndFGM.   And so I share below some notes on the FGM knowledge gaps and praxis issues with which I think we are all confronted.  Your thoughts on my provisional analysis will be warmly welcomed.

Read more…

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