(February 2009) Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) refers to the practice of full or partial removal of female external genitalia for nonmedical reasons. The procedure is practiced in at least 28 countries in Africa, parts of Asia and the Middle East, and among some communities in the United States, Canada, and Europe. FGM/C is practiced for a variety of reasons ranging from reducing female sexuality, perceived health and hygiene benefits, social reasons, and a mistaken belief in religious mandate. FGM/C is typically performed on girls between ages 4 and 12, although it is practiced in some cultures as early as a few days after birth or as late as just prior to marriage.

Since the early 1990s, FGM/C has gained recognition as a health and human rights issue among African governments, the international community, women’s organizations, and professional associations. In 2003, African governments condemned the practice of FGM/C by signing The Protocol on the Rights of Women, otherwise known as the Maputo Declaration.

For over two decades, Berhane Ras-Work has been active in the fight against FGM/C. She is the founding president of the Inter-African Committee (IAC), a nongovernmental organization that promotes the health of women and children in Africa by fighting traditional practices that are harmful to the health of women. Ras-Work talked with PRB from the IAC office in Geneva about the risks of FGM/C, the significance of the International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM, and the range of measures being taken by governments and local communities to publicize the risks and end the practice.

Eric Zuehlke is an editor at the Population Reference Bureau.