CALVERTON, Maryland - Female genital cutting is on the decline in some areas, and practices are changing, according to a new report. Also known as female circumcision and female genital mutilation, female genital cutting (FGC) varies among ethnic groups and has been widely misunderstood, says the report.
“FGC is practiced in only about 25 countries in Africa and in some immigrant populations in Europe and North America. FGC is nearly universal in just a few countries like Egypt and Guinea. In other African countries, FGC prevalence varies from 5 to 75 percent of women,” says Dr. Stan Yoder, author of the report, Female Genital Cutting in the Demographic and Health Surveys: A Critical and Comparative Analysis, published by the MEASURE DHS project
Comparisons of national surveys in several countries show marked changes in FGC practices over time. Younger women are less likely to be cut than older women in 9 of 16 countries studied, including Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and the Ivory Coast. There have been fewer changes, however, in the countries with the highest prevalence of FGC such as Egypt, Guinea, and Mali. Approval of FGC is decreasing in Egypt and other areas, suggesting that even in high prevalence countries, individual perceptions are changing.
At the same time, the report documents an increasing trend toward the “medicalization” of FGC, as more girls are cut by medical professionals rather than by traditional practitioners. This trend is notable in Egypt where just over 61 percent of girls were cut by a medical professional in 2000 compared to 54 percent in 1995. The same trend is visible in Mail and Guinea, both countries with very high FGC prevalence. In many countries, girls are being cut at younger ages, even as the overall proportion of girls who are circumcised decreases.
“FGC varies enormously in the time and the way it is performed,” says Dr. Yoder. “Practices range from a symbolic tiny cut on the clitoris to the partial or complete removal of the external female genitalia and partial closure of the vaginal area (infibulation).” In some countries, like Egypt, FGC is an ancient practice, predating Islam; in some parts of West Africa, on the other hand, the practice of FGC began in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Long considered the “gold standard” survey for measuring variables related to population, nutrition, and health issues, MEASURE DHS helps developing countries collect demographic and health survey (DHS) data by conducting individual interviews in peoples’ homes. The DHS first added questions on FGC in 1989.
MEASURE DHS has helped conduct over 200 surveys in more than 70 countries worldwide. MEASURE DHS is implemented by Macro International Inc., an Opinion Research Corporation company (ORC Macro).