Men in their roles as fathers, husbands, community and religious leaders may play a pivotal part in the ending or continuation of female genital mutilation (FGM). Men are important actors who influence the reproductive health outcomes of women.

The role of men is even more important in some developing countries or patriarchal structures where husbands or other family members control women’s health-related decisions.

In those societies female’s reproductive health is affected by male policymakers, male health-care administrators, and male service providers, who may perpetuate a dominant “male definition” of what is important or not for women’s needs. Men also affect women’s reproductive health as partners and fathers.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) refers to all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for cultural or other non-medical reasons. @WHO

The WHO classifies FGM into four types, with subdivisions.  These are…

FGM Type I. Partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce (Clitoridectomy). The subdivisions are: Type Ia. Removal of the clitoral hood or prepuce only and Type Ib. Removal of the clitoris with the prepuce.

FGM Type II. Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (excision).

The subdivisions are: Type IIa. Removal of the labia minora only; Type IIb. Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora; and Type IIc. Partial or total removal of the clitoris, the labia minora, and the labia majora.

FGM Type III. Narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and appositioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora, with or without excision of the clitoris (infibulation). 

The subdivisions are Type IIIa. Removal and apposition of the labia minora and Type IIIb. Removal and apposition of the labia majora.

FGM Type IV. All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for nonmedical purposes, for example, pricking, piercing, incising, scraping, and cauterization.

Type IV also includes introduction of corrosive substances and herbs in the vagina, and other forms. In some communities, in Nigeria, they try to push the clitoris back into the body or apply herbs, petroleum jelly, menthol ointments, or hot water to make the clitoris numb. This is called “MASSAGING or PRESSING”. 

FGM is always traumatic with immediate complications including excruciating pain, shock, urine retention, ulceration of the genitals and injury to adjacent tissue.  Other complications of FGM include septicaemia, infertility, obstructed labour, and even death. 

FGM is performed on infants, young girls, women who are about to marry, women who are pregnant with their first child or who have just given birth.  FGM is often performed by traditional practitioners, including health professionals, using scissors, razor blades, or other sharp instruments.

 FGM is a fundamental violation of human rights.  It subjects girls and women to health risks and has life-threatening consequences. Among those rights violated are the Rights to the highest attainable standard of health and to bodily integrity.

The World Health Organization (2016) estimates that over 200 million girls and women worldwide are living with the effects of FGM, and despite efforts to eradicate the practice, every year some 3 million girls and women are at risk of FGM.   @WHO

FGM is practiced in over 30 nations, predominantly in Africa, and in a few countries in Asia and the Middle East. FGM remains widespread in Nigeria with regional/ethnic variations in prevalence.  According to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS 2016-17), 18.4% of women aged 15-49 years had undergone FGM, a decrease from 27% in 2011. 

Worrisomely, the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS 2016-17) also revealed that the FGM prevalence among daughters aged 0-14 years increased from 19.2% (2011) to 25.3% (2016-17).

In the states where the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on Elimination of FGM (UNJP) is taking place, the overall FGM prevalence among women aged 15-49 years ranged from 43.2% in Ebonyi to 67.8% in Osun state.  Decreases in FGM prevalence among women aged 15-49 years was observed in the UNJP intervention States (Ebonyi: 62.3 % to 43.2%; Ekiti: 66.2% to 62.6%; Imo: 58.4% to 51.6%; Osun: 73.4% to 67.8 %; and Oyo: 71% to 55%). 

In the UNJP states, FGM prevalence among girls 0-14 years decreased in Ebonyi: (6.4% to 5.2%); Imo (33.4% to 22.2%) and Oyo states (32.9% to 29.6%), while a slight increase was seen in Ekiti (40.3% to 41.7%) and Osun (33.4 to 34.6%).  According to the MICS (2016-17), 21.6% of women surveyed support the continuation of FGM, a slight decrease from 21.8% (2011). 

In the UNJP intervention states the number of women supporting the continuation of FGM decreased in Ebonyi (11.8% to 3.8%) and Ekiti (50.2% to 31.4%); while it increased in Imo (27.8% to 29.6%); Oyo: (21.2% to 30.3%; Osun: (34.8% to 38.5%). The result of MICS (2016-17) shows that there is a need to sustain the campaign to end FGM in Nigeria.  Thus UNJP will continue to support the Government of Nigeria in its effort to end FGM in Nigeria.  One of its strategies is to work with men.

The Men can provide critical leadership through their roles as decision makers, public figures and opinion makers by speaking out against FGM and ensuring that priority attention is given to the issue. Men can be role models for male adolescents and boys. Men have an essential role to play as community leaders in speaking out, standing together, mobilizing communities and taking action to end FGM and other violence against women.

Engaging Men who are community leaders, including religious and cultural leaders, has proved to be a successful strategy in improving the response of communal justice mechanisms to end violence against women and prevent trafficking of women and girls. The participation of positive male role models in campaigns that condemn violence against women has also shown promising results.

Under the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme for elimination of FGM in Nigeria has adopted a strategy known as MALE ENGAGEMENT ALLIANCE IN THE ELIMINATION OF FGM.

This strategy is vital because many interventions on FGM elimination do not engage men or male groups as strategic partners and advocates in leading the campaign to end FGM.  In most cases the men, and male groups, participate in community dialogues and similar social mobilisation interventions but are rarely engaged as advocates due to the belief that FGM is a “woman’s issue”.

This situation has limited the ability of men to contribute to the campaign beyond these initial engagements.  Men in their diverse roles (fathers, husbands, relatives, community leaders, religious leaders, etc.) have been perpetuating the practice of FGM either by omission or commission. 

While some men have openly supported the practice by paying for the procedure or served as traditional cutters, others aid the practice through their silence.  Men hold very prominent positions in the community and have a lot of influence within and outside the home, especially in a patriarchal society like Nigeria. 

Men also belong to groups (religious, social, traditional, etc.) that address social issues and contribute to the development of their communities.  These Men and their groups have the potential to contribute to the elimination of FGM.  

Unfortunately, the potential of men to use their different platforms and positions to develop their communities, have not been well explored.  Engaging men as endFGM advocates will bridge this gap by engaging community-based male groups as strategic partners in promoting women’s health by advocating for the elimination of FGM. 

The expectation is that if men become involved in the campaign to eliminate FGM, there is a greater likelihood that they will motivate their families and community’s to end FGM.

The model of ‘men talking to men’ has proven very useful in gaining buy-in from males.

In 2018, the UNJP trained representatives of male groups from selected communities in the intervention LGA (Ekiti, Ebonyi, Osun and Oyo States) and supported them to form a coalition called “Male Engage Alliance to end FGM”. This strategy has been successful.

Lessons learnt from this activity across the 4 UNJP focal States are highlighted below;

  • People in community respect the opinion of Men, including taking a stand against FGM.
  • Men are the head of their homes, having men take a stand against FGM makes it very easy for wives to save their daughters from being cut.
  • Men talking to men through Artisan Associations, Clubs, Religious organizations, community meetings etc. has fast-tracked the elimination of FGM in communities.
  • Having men as EndFGM advocates has encouraged more men to join the campaign for elimination of FGM.
  • Men are custodians of culture, religion and tradition they thereby have great potential to change the practice of FGM.
  • Men as endFGM advocate participates in and support harmless rites of passage.
  • Men as endFGM advocates support activities and campaigns against FGM in their communities. Thereby making dialogue, consensus building and Public declaration of abandonment of FGM easy and faster.  
  • Men as endFGM advocates started talking with young men on marrying uncut girls as a means of controlling the demand for FGM.

In both the developing and the developed world, men still wield enormous power over many aspects of women’s lives. In the public spheres, as heads of states and government ministers, as leaders of religious and faith-based institutions, as judges, as heads of armies and other agencies of force, or as village heads, men design and implement policies that may or may not favour women’s priorities and needs.

As public authorities, men also exert control over a large variety of resources such as health, education, transportation or finance. Legal or regulatory barriers which restrict women’s access to those resources perpetuate gender inequality in many parts of the globe.

In the private sphere, as husbands (or partners) and fathers, men can directly affect the economic and social progress of women. In many societies, men still have the final say on issues related to family planning and reproductive health, their wives’ and daughters’ labour market participation, and the use of family resources, including medical and educational expenditures.

In the developing world, like Nigeria, men’s limited participation on childcare and housework places a great burden on women’s educational and professional careers.

Both in the public and the private life, all over the world, men have a significant and undeniable role in the elimination of FGM, ending GBV and other harmful traditional practices that impede the socioeconomic progress of women.

Despite these potentials, ignoring men when designing and implementing endFGM-oriented program and policies has not only limited their effectiveness, but has also worsened the situation.

Please kind follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram via @endcuttinggirls. You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel via

Together, we will end female genital mutilation in this generation.