Male involvement in ending FGM
Female Genital Mutilation affects girls’ and women’s health and well-being. Unlike other types of gender-based violence, which are mostly perpetrated by men, FGM is often (but not always!) practiced by women in the family and/or community. As a result, in early programs dealing with FGM, men were often side-lined. More recently, however, we have come to understand the importance of engaging men and boys in the fight against FGM. In fact, given their power in their communities, men and boys are often seen as central actors with important potential to influence the prevalence of FGM in their communities.
In fact, there are many reasons to why FGM is also a “male issue” and why men should get involved in this work.
In many cultures, FGM is considered a rite of passage to becoming a woman. The control of women and girl’s sexuality, ensuring marriagebility of girls by “preserving their pre-marital virginity” and making women subjectively disearble by men are among the many driving forces of FGM. The whole family’s honour, including that of the male members, is often linked to whether girls in the family have undergone FGM. It has often been argued that FGM is explicitly practiced to the benefit of men’s sexual pleasure in many communities, such as for example in The Gambia, where girls are subjected to FGM to limit girls sexual relations and make them desirable for marriage.
What is certain is that in patriarchal societies, existing structures, beliefs and systems generally benefit men as a group, to the detriment of women as a group. Men hold a strong control over cultural beliefs and social norms. In FGM practicing communities, FGM is a strong social norm and is considered a required religious and/or cultural practice that raises women’s status in society and makes them desirable by men. Most often, the very religious and cultural institutions that uphold these beliefs, and are pivotal in ending it, are also controlled by men. Therefore, men not only have an instrumental role but also a responsibility to participating in changing society, including ending female genital mutilation.
Moreover, according to sociological theories on sex and gender, the norms defining what it takes to be a “woman” and those defining what it takes to be a “man” have been constructed in opposition to one another and both groups also contribute to creating and reinforcing these gendered roles. Thus, one could argue that both men and women also have a role to play to redefine what it means to be a woman (and what it means to be a man for that sake) – including questioning FGM as a defining part of “femininity”!
On an individual level, men are often not directly involved in the practice of FGM – except in communities where the practice is medicalized. However, many men contribute explicitly or tacitly by consenting to the perpetuation of the practice in their families and communities. (A recent systematic review by Varol et al. 2015 explored the role men, as fathers, husbands, community and religious leaders, could play in the continuation or ending of FGM)
In April 2021, the Community of Practice on Female Genital Mutilation organized a thematic discussion and a webinar on male involvement in the anti-FGM movement.
The CoP members were invited to answer key questions, to share their experiences and expertise on the topic “Male involvement in the work against FGM”.
- How is FGM linked to patriarchy and male dominance in your community? What influence do men have on the practice of FGM in your community ? What do men themselves say about the practice? Does FGM affect men, negatively or positively?
- Which strategies do anti-FGM advocates use to involve male allies in FGM abandonment? Is it a priority for you to work with men?
- How do we ensure that anti-FGM campaigns are truly gender transformative and that male allies have the capacities to challenge patriarchal structures that uphold gender-based violence and men’s domination over women?
- Which are the challenges or the limits of working with male allies when tackling a violence against women such as FGM? How can they be overcome?
The webinar on Male involvement in ending FGM took place on May 5th 2021 and had five speakers from four different countries. The aim of the discussion was to gain better understanding of the opportunities and challenges of involving men and identify which strategies can be used to best engage men in gender transformative programming on FGM.
In this section of the website you will find more information on why FGM is a men’s issue, how men can be engaged in anti-FGM programmes as well as questions on the possible challenged of working with men. We highlight examples of programmes and campaigns involving male allies as well as research exploring men’s opinion and involvement in the continuation of FGM and in making it end.
- Almroth, Almorth-Berggren et al. (2001), Male complications of female genital mutilation, Social Science & Medicine, Vol 53 (11), 1455-1460. Access here
- Bartha, E. (2018). Female Genital Mutilation is a Man’s issue too: Kenyan Maasai Activist. Reuters. Access here
- Chakraborty, P., Osrin, D., & Daruwalla, N. (2020). “We Learn How to Become Good Men”: Working with Male Allies to Prevent Violence against Women and Girls in Urban Informal Settlements in Mumbai, India. Men and Masculinities, 23(3–4), 749–771. Access here
- GIZ, Eschborn. (6 February 2013). Engaging men in the abandonment of female genital mutilation. Documentation of the panel discussion. Access here
- Wardere, H. (2020). FGM is about men, they must help end it. Al Jazeera. Access here
- UNFPA. (2020). Men and boys are key players in helping to end FGM Acces here
- UNFPA. (2017). Annual report, pp 18-19
- UNICEF. (2020). Gender transformative approches for the elimination of female genital mutilation. Access here.
- Varol, N., Turkmani, S., Black, K. et al. (2015). The role of men in abandonment of female genital mutilation: a systematic review. BMC Public Health. 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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