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Ending female genital mutilation/cutting

The practice of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) is internationally recognised as a human rights violation and its elimination is one of the targets under the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 5.3). However, progress towards ending this practice is hard to achieve. To aid the UN, Northumbria University has been investigating trends in FGM/C using biostatistical analysis, estimating that 68 million of girls worldwide are at risk of FGM/C by 2030. Understanding the scope of the problem, and where the FGM/C hotspots are located, enabled international development organisations to create better programmes and more strategically allocate funds for interventions.  

Northumbria’s research group led by Professor Ngianga-Bakwin Kandala used a biostatistical modelling technique called survival analysis to build a detailed understanding of FGM/C practices for the ‘UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme to Eliminate Female Genital Mutilation: Accelerating Change’. This programme was designed to estimate the number of girls at risk of FGM/C worldwide. Using data sets from 17 countries spread across Africa and the Middle East, this research revealed prevalent trends across different geographical scales (national, regional, county, district), showing that some regions continued to exhibit large volumes of cases. These high-risk regions were identified as FGM/C hotspots.  

Importantly, the research was able to estimate the number of girls at risk of FGM/C by 2030 as 68 million. Previously, the incorrect number of 3 million of girls was often used by the international community, and the updated numbers have revealed the frightening nature of the problem. Using the updated numbers, the UN designed a new information campaign to attract attention to the issue. In addition to this, in 2018 Professor Ngianga-Bakwin Kandala and Dr Paul Komba published a groundbreaking ‘Female Genital Mutilation Around the World: Analysis of Medical Aspects, Law and Practice’ book that was endorsed by Princess Tessy Antony of Luxembourg, the UNAids Global Advocate for Young Women and Adolescent Girls, and the World Bank FGM Legal Group.  

The Identification of FGM/C hotspots was invaluable for international development organisations, as it enabled them to transform their programmes and influence interventions on the ground. Northumbria collaborated with high-profile organisations such as the agencies of the United Nations (UNICEF and UNFPA in particular), the Population Council, the World Health Organization, the UK’s Department for International Development, and the UK National FGM Centre. Northumbria’s research helped these institutions make more effective decisions on how to deploy resources, with more proportional allocation of funds to countries that have more girls at risk of FGM/C. In turn, this led to scaling up of efforts in tackling FGM/C in such countries as Egypt, Kenya, and others. Moreover, new findings enabled coordination of policy efforts across borders, with collaborations between Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda. Work with the World Bank, advocacy programmes and training across Africa have been influenced by the research, leading to the development of a new roadmap holding states to account for FGM/C practices.   

In 2020, during the 44th Session of the Human Rights Council, a new resolution A/HRC/L.20 on the elimination of FGM was adopted, showing that the international community is invested in protecting girls and women from FGM/C. Northumbria’s researchers are proud that their efforts contributed to achieving justice for women and girls.  

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