FGM is a complex issue deeply embedded in the societies where it is practiced. While criminalization of the practice is generally acknowledged as an important step in the global strategy towards abandonment of FGM, most experts would agree that anti-FGM laws alone cannot solve the problem. 

The absence of a decrease of prevalence of FGM in many communities where laws exist as well as growing critiques against the way laws are implemented raises the question: Can social change be legislated? 

A discussion on the theme “LAW and FGM” was organized within the Community of practice on FGM in July and August 2019 with the aim to encourage an exchange of experiences, from different countries, on how to best use the law as a tool in the anti-FGM strategy.  

In the thematic note we look at the legal measures taken to eradicate FGM, both in high-prevalence countries and low-prevalence countries, we also highlight some of the common critiques against the implementation of anti-FGM laws.

The thematic note can be downloaded below.


Three human rights experts were invited to participate in the discussion :

  • Fatou Janssen, human rights lawyer working on women’s rights in Africa ;
  • Anne-Marie Middelburg, independent consultant and human rights researcher ;
  • Brenda Dora, human rights lawyer specialised in women’s and children’s rights.

The members of the Community of practice were invited to share their experiences and on the following topics:

  • What have been the effects of an anti-FGM law in your country?
  • Has it been beneficial? Has the law had any negative or undesirable effects?
  • Which have been the difficulties in implementing laws?
  • Do you think countries should have specific anti-FGM laws or integrate FGM under other laws (child abuse, violence against women…)?
  • How do we avoid stigmatization of families and communities (in high prevalence or low prevalence settings)?
  • How should countries best deal with the issue of consent – should FGM be illegal independently if it is practiced on a girl or on a consenting woman?

28 Too Many, 2018 (a), SOMALIA: THE LAW AND FGM, Acces here

28 Too Many, 2018 (b) , The Law and FGM: An Overview of 28 African Countries, Access here

Aha Foundation, 2019, Why we hesitate to protect girls from FGM in the United States, Access here

Australian Human Rights Commission, 2016, FGM Conference: A  Human Rights Perspective, Access here

Berer  M., 2015, The history and role of the criminal law in anti-FGM campaigns: Is the criminal law what is needed, at least in countries like Great Britain?,  Acces here

Bhalla N., Thomson Reuters Foundation, 2018, Kenyan doctor goes to court to legalise female genital mutilation, Access here

Earp Brian D., Shahvisi A., Cambridge University Press, 2019, The law and ethics of female genital cutting, in Female Genital Cosmestic Surgery: Solution to What Problem?, Access here

ECHR, 2005, Case K.A. and A.D. v./ Belgium, Access here

EIGE, 2018, Estimation of girls at risk of female genital mutilation in the European Union – Belgium, Greece, France, Italy, Cyprus and Malta, Access here

FGM IN NZ, 2020, FGM and NZ Law, Access here
Johnsdotter S. and Mestre R. M., 2015, ‘Female Genital Mutilation in Europe: An analysis of court cases, Access here

Johnsdotter S., 2019, Meaning well while doing harm: compulsory genital examinations in Swedish African girls Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters, Access here

Johnsdotter S., 2009 , The FGM Legislation Implemented: Experiences from Sweden, Malmö University, Disponible ici

Maryse A., INTACT Belgique, 2014, Les Mutilations Génitales Féminines : de l’incrimination aux poursuites. Etat des lieux en Belgique et regards européens , Access here

Nabaneh S. and Muula S. A., 2019, Female genital mutilation/cutting in Africa: A complex legal and ethical landscape, Access here

Rashid A, Iguchi Y., 2019, Female genital cutting in Malaysia: a mixed methods study. Access here

STOP FGM Middle East, IndonesiaIraqIran

The Council of Europe, 2017, Action against female genital mutilation and forced marriage, Access here

The Council of Europe, End FGM European Network, Amnesty International, 2014, Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence: A Tool to end FGM, Access here

Thomas A. R., The Sierra Leone Telegraph 2016, Female circumcision – women must have the right to choose – says Dr. Fuambai Sia Ahmadu, Access here

United to End FGM, The role of the justice system in the fight against FGM, Access here

UNFPA Regional Office for West and Central Africa, 2018, Analysis of Legal Frameworks on Female Genital Mutilation in Selected Countries in West Africa, Access here

UNFPA, 2009, Burkina Faso has a strong law against FGM/C,but winning hearts and minds remains crucial, Access here

World Bank, 2018, Compendium of International and National Legal Frameworks on Female Genital Mutilation Second Edition , Access here

Yusuf C., Fessha Y., 2013, African Human Rights Law journal, Volume 13 No 2:  Female genital mutilation as a human rights issue: Examining the effectiveness of the law against female genital mutilation in Tanzania, Access here

« The Community of Practice on Female Genital Mutilation » is part of the « Building Bridges between Africa and Europe to tackle FGM » project, supported by the « UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on the Elimination of FGM ».
The project is coordinated by AIDOS in partnership with GAMS Belgium.

The views expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UNFPA, UNICEF or any other agency or organization.

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