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Female Genital Mutilation Destroys Lives And Communities

April 6, 2018

The University of Salford is where, in 1973, I gained my M.Sc. degree in the Sociology of Science and Technology. I was therefore pleased to be asked to return at last, this time as a speaker at a ONECPD Conference on Tuesday 24 April 2018, on Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).   The topic I will address is The 4 Es of FGM Eradication – Engagement, Education, Enforcement and Economics.
I was also invited to write a blog on our Zero Tolerance for FGM theme for the ONECPD website. Here it is:

Author and sociologist Hilary Burrage explains how only a zero tolerance approach can bring an end to the damaging practice of FGM.

Some 200 million women and girls alive today are thought to have undergone, or be at significant risk of, female genital mutilation (FGM), a practice that has no benefits and causes physical, psychological and socio-economic harm to victims (survivors), their families and their communities.

There is a global epidemic of FGM, a public health challenge in many parts of the world which demands zero tolerance of this harmful traditional practice (HTP) stretching back millennia.

The practice may have started in Egypt when wealthy men sought to ensure both that children born to their wives were legitimate heirs (so they sewed the women up – infibulated them – whilst husbands were away), and that their female slaves would not get pregnant, thereby interfering with their work (sew them up, again).

FGM is found in many parts of the world – North and South America, Australia, Russia, parts of Asia and now, especially with the diaspora, Europe, as well as in the most widely known locations of Africa and the Middle East. It must therefore have had many different beginnings, just as it involves many different practices inflicted on girls and women of different status and ages, for different ‘reasons’, by different types of people.

But in every instance of FGM there is a common theme: control, and the subjugation of women by men.  FGM makes women into commodities, to be sold as brides (sometimes one of several, with the same man), to reduce sexual pleasure and so “guarantee purity”, to produce income via marriage for the investment of the family which raised the girl child. It reduces girls and women to chattels.

Like breast ironing and similar less known cruel practices, FGM is patriarchy incarnate, the literal imposition of men’s power on women’s bodies.

The actual assault of the girl is more often by women than men, but there may be little choice if only after FGM can the child become a bride – unmarried she cannot attain adult status and will have no husband to take the place of her birth family. And other motives also lead to FGM, for instance in war zones where infibulation will, it is hoped, prevent rape.

In some communities FGM is also used to punish girls judged disobedient or insufficiently respectful. Not always, as often claimed, is FGM an “act of love”.

There are then many reasons why eradicating FGM is imperative. It can destroy lives; it puts pregnancies at risk; it inflicts trauma and distrust; it devalues women and leaves girls poorly educated and vulnerable; it demands health, legal and other provision (wherever in the world it occurs) which could be put to better use elsewhere.

The damage of FGM, like the motive, is at base economic; it harms communities as well as the women who experience it.

The debate about how many girls actually undergo FGM on British soil continues, but official health service reporting shows that thousands live with the condition. Only by standing with EndFGM activists in their own communities, and bringing together all the agencies involved in eradication, can we hope to make FGM history.

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My presentation of 24 April will be

The 4 Es of FGM Eradication – Engagement, Education, Enforcement and Economics

Hilary Burrage, adjunct professor, Buehler Center for Health Policy and Economics, Feinberg School of Medicine Northwestern University, Chicago, USA

  • Rather than asking how long till FGM eradication, is a fully informed economic approach the missing component in bringing FGM finally to an end?
  • We know already that community engagement, education programmes and legal enforcement are critical to FGM eradication. Now it’s important to ask, what about the economics?
  • The financial drivers of FGM are usually acknowledged – bride price, ‘purity’, status and income for mutilators (‘cutters’) etc. But what of the socio-economic impacts on whole communities? What’s the real cost to, and of, women who have had FGM, whether in ‘traditional’ communities of in the diaspora? And what is the cost also to their national economies?

Read more about FGM and Economics

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Your Comments on this topic are welcome. 
Please post them in the box which follows these announcements.

Books by Hilary Burrage on female genital mutilation

18.04.12 FGM books together IMG_3336 (3).JPG

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.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 7, 2018 06:21

    Your headline is so on-target! As is most everything you write. “FGM destroys lives and communities.” People who prefer to trivialize the cut would be quick to point out that it’s hyperbole — an overstatement. But it isn’t. Rather, it’s a metaphor for the inevitable damage FGM causes due to its underlying intent: to diminish its object, i.e. the female. Without acknowledging the deepest ‘why’ of clitoral ablation and vulvar attack, the act makes no sense at all. Yes, there has been considerable protest against this point based on fact: that ‘victims’ emerge — some of them — with energy, determination and power evident in the ways they are fighting to end the ‘tradition’. I submit that this defiance doesn’t erase but rather builds on the underlying inevitable trauma.

  2. Teri Gabrielsen permalink
    April 8, 2018 06:39

    Congratulations Hillary. Following you incessantly.


    Teri Gabrielsen

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