Engaging Boys, Men in Conversation to End Female Genital Mutilation by 2030

With just seven years left to achieve the target of ending female genital mutilation, FGM, – the total or partial removal of the external female genitalia – the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA,

and the Initiative for Girls Right and Health Development, IGRHD, in commemoration of the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, reiterated the need for boys and men in Nigeria to join the heads to phase out the age-long harmful practice. Rebecca Ejifoma writes

“World will miss the target of ending FGM by 2030 without urgent action – including from men and boys,” the UNFPA and UNICEF unanimously warned as efforts to eliminate Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Nigeria in line with the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation.

Observed February 6th, the theme for this year’s day is “Partnership with Men and Boys to Transform Social and Gender Norms to End FGM”.

And while international bodies also raised the alarm about the disturbing statistic that 4.3 million girls are at risk of female genital mutilation, this number is projected to reach 4.6 million by 2030. Conflict, climate change, rising poverty, and inequality continue to hinder efforts to transform gender and social norms that underpin this harmful practice and disrupt programmes that help protect girls, especially in states like Osun, Ekiti and Oyo, where FGM is most prevalent. UNICEF and UNFPA had said. 

Initiative for Girls Right and Health Development in Osun

In a telephone conversation with the Initiative for Girls Right and Health Development (IGRHD), Assistant Media Director Damilola Amoo described female genital mutilation as the cutting, partial or total removal of the female genitalia. Hence, she noted that it was for this cause that the not-for-profit NGO was established. “We create awareness in Osun State about the need to end FGM and other harmful practices against the female child because it is about human rights.”

Aligning with the theme of this year, Amoo said it was high time the boys and the men were enlightened about their role in saving the girls and women. “We also make the men understand that they should be decent enough not to lure another woman into promiscuity. We have done a lot of sensitisation, awareness and campaigns to accelerate the goal of ending FGM.”

Currently, IGRHD has visited schools in Osun state where it operates, empowering women and girls in their rights and reproductive health. We are not relenting. We involve not only stakeholders but also traditional leaders, religious leaders, and lawyers.

IGRHD, a grassroots non-profit focused on weakening harmful social and cultural practices affecting the sexual and reproductive health and rights of girls and women in Osun state, has flagged off a programme called “She Must Know”.

This initiative aims to train women and girls on sexual reproduction to help them make informed decisions. Amoo added: “Cutting girls traumatises them in adulthood. Once the government starts arresting and making people know that it is an offence punishable under the law, it will augment our efforts in ending FGM.”

According to UNICEF and UNFPA, in a joint statement, FGM remains widespread in Nigeria. With an estimated 19.9 million survivors, Nigeria has the third-highest number of women and girls who have undergone FGM worldwide. With the risk of cutting highest in the first five years, 86 per cent of girls are circumcised before age five, according to the National Demographic and Health Survey 2018. 

However, the duo agencies noted that FGM prevalence in Nigeria is decreasing among women aged from 15 to 49 according to data from the 2021 Multiple Indicator Survey (MICS) (18 per cent to 15 per cent from 2016 to 17 and 2021). “The prevalence among girls aged zero to 14 decreased from 25 per cent to eight per cent during the same period (MICS 2021). This significant decrease in prevalence among girls aged zero to 14, NDHS of 2018 estimated, is a welcome development, given that an estimated 86 per cent of females aged between 15 and 49 were subjected to FGM before the age of five.”

UNICEF and UNFPA further noted that 12 states had a prevalence higher than the national prevalence, ranging from nine per cent in Edo to 35 per cent in Kwara and Kano. FGM, they pointed out, violates the rights of women and girls and limits their opportunities for the future in health, education and income. Rooted in gender inequality and power imbalances, it is an act of gender-based violence that harms girls’ bodies, dims their futures, and endangers their lives.

The organisations added: “Changing gender and social norms that encourage FGM is critical. Men and boys are powerful allies in the effort. Increasingly they are challenging power dynamics within their families and communities and supporting women and girls as agents of change.”

Meanwhile, the UNFPA-UNICEF global Joint Programme on the Elimination of FGM has supported over 3,000 initiatives within the last five years where men and boys actively advocate to bring an end to the practice. Since implementation began in Nigeria in 2018, UNJP has supported the engagement of 807 men’s and boys’ networks to advocate to bring an end to the practice actively.

It has done this by providing opportunities and safe spaces for critical reflection on gender discrimination, power dynamics, positive masculinities and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education targeting men and boys. Hence, they understand the consequences of FGM. 

In the words of the UNFPA Resident Representative, Ulla E. Mueller, men and boys remain key partners in addressing gender inequalities and harmful practices as they all collaboratively join hands to deliver the global promise of eliminating FGM by 2030.

“Due to our collective efforts, we are witnessing significant opposition from men and boys to FGM. Today, men and boys are more receptive to change than before. In some communities, they are more likely to disapprove of female genital mutilation and domestic violence than women and girls,” said UNICEF Nigeria Country Representative Cristian Munduate.

Activities to Stall FGM

As part of a pragmatic approach towards stalling FGM, on the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, UNICEF and UNFPA have unanimously called on all stakeholders to partner and engage men and boys to shift unequal power relations and challenge the attitudes and behaviours caused by gender inequality that leads to FGM.

They also suggested integrating gender-transformative approaches and changing social norms into anti-FGM programmes. Invest in national-level policies and legislation protecting the rights of girls and women, including the development of national action plans to end FGM. 

For these organisations, February 6th reminds them of the urgent need for even more targeted and concerted efforts to turn their shared goal of ending FGM into a reality.

“We must work together with all stakeholders – including men and boys – to protect the millions of girls and women at risk and consign this practice to history,” say UNICEF and UNFPA. 


Men and boys remain key partners in addressing gender inequalities and harmful practices as they all collaboratively join hands to deliver the global promise of eliminating FGM by 2030

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