IMPACT
07/19/2016 02:05 pm ET

More Men Than Women Oppose Female Genital Mutilation In These Countries

Women often feel obliged to uphold the tradition and aren't aware of the fact that men are actually against it.

In some countries, men oppose female genital mutilation at a higher rate than women ― even though it is considered an act of violence against women. 

In Guinea – the country with the second highest prevalence of female genital mutilation (FGM) in the world – 38 percent of men are against the practice, compared to just 21 percent of women, according to new data from Unicef.

The same is true in Sierra Leone. 

There, 40 percent of boys and men want the practice to end, compared with 23 percent of girls and women.

In 11 out of 18 countries with available data, Unicef found that men are either in agreement with women or are more opposed to the practice.

The problem is, a widespread taboo around the topic has led to a misunderstanding of how much opposition there is. 

A lot of the opinions on wanting to end the practice are often held in private,” Francesca Moneti, Unicef’s senior child protection specialist, told The Huffington Post. “It’s not discussed out loud.”

Girls attend a community meeting on FGM, in the northern town of Katiola in Côte d'Ivoire. The meeting was organiz
Unicef/Asselin
Girls attend a community meeting on FGM, in the northern town of Katiola in Côte d'Ivoire. The meeting was organized by the NGO OIS Afrique, which works with communities and FGM/C practitioners to end the harmful traditional practice.

Female genital mutilation is a procedure that involves the total or partial removal of ― or injury to ― the external female genitalia for no medical benefit, which can cause prolonged bleeding, infertility or death.

The World Health Organization considers it a violation of women’s rights.

According to Unicef’s data, two thirds of people ― both men and women ― in 30 countries where FGM is common, say they want to end the practice.

Still, at least 200 million girls and women have undergone the practice.

Another central issue is that women feel obliged to uphold the tradition and aren’t aware of how many men are actually against it. 

“Women overestimate how many men support the practice,” Moneti said. “Women would carry out FGM as their duty, for social acceptance ― yet they overestimated, for every single country we had data for, how many men supported it.”

But when men are increasingly included in conversations about FGM, their opposition to the practice grows, according to Moneti.

“Historically FGM was seen as women’s business, and men, when asked, would say it’s not their business,” Moneti said. “Now that it’s in the public discussion, they are aware of the harms of cutting, and in some countries, you now have more men against it.” 

Boko Mohammed, a former practitioner who performed FGM, holds the tool she used for the procedure, at community meeting
Unicef/Holt
Boko Mohammed, a former practitioner who performed FGM, holds the tool she used for the procedure, at community meeting in Amibara District, Ethiopia.

Some of the biggest support for ending FGM is actually coming from young boys. In Sierra Leone, for instance, 40 percent of boys between the ages of 15 and 19 are against the practice.

“We’re seeing young boys are increasingly taking a visible stand,” Moneti said. “They’re saying they’re happy to marry women who are not cut.”

And older men who have spoken out against FGM are becoming more aware of its harmful impact on women and girls’ lives, Moneti added.

A social worker leads a discussion about FGM with men from Murtka village in Kurdistan, Iraq. In the region, more than 50 per
Unicef/Mackenzie
A social worker leads a discussion about FGM with men from Murtka village in Kurdistan, Iraq. In the region, more than 50 percent of girls and women aged 15 to 49 years have undergone FGM.

More people speaking out against FGM is also key to getting governments to pass legislation to end the practice.

In Gambia, for instance, it was only after communities began abandoning the practice, with public media declarations, that the president finally passed legislation to ban it.

“If the people’s support for FGM is still very strong socially, it will be hard for government to pass legislation, let alone enforce it,” Moneti said. “But if opposition to the practice is strong, it will be easy to have legislation implemented ― and for people to report cases to the government.”

However, Guinea is also proof that governments alone can’t end the practice without the support of changing social norms. Female genital mutilation is illegal in Guinea, yet 97 percent of girls are still cut, and the practice is actually on the rise.

Many girls there still feel overwhelming social pressure and fear that not getting cut could cause them to lose out on marriage prospects, according to a recent U.N. report. 

“The most important factor for social change is people seeing and hearing about others who want to end it,” Moneti said. “Most people decide against it once they know others will go along, or won’t criticize them.”

A woman and her daughters stand in their home, in the village of Cambadju, Guinea-Bissau. Their village is the first in the c
Unicef/LeMoyne
A woman and her daughters stand in their home, in the village of Cambadju, Guinea-Bissau. Their village is the first in the country to renounce FGM.
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