FGM 685 52 (Lewi-4592)Female genital mutilation (FGM)

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a collective term for a range of procedures which involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. It is sometimes referred to as female circumcision, or female genital cutting. FGM is a global issue and happens all over the world. Practising communities tend to originate from parts of the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

FGM is a crime in the UK. It is also illegal to take a British national or permanent resident abroad for FGM or to help someone trying to do this. The maximum sentence for carrying out FGM or helping it to take place is 14 years in prison.

FGM is recognised internationally as a gross violation of the human rights of girls and women.

Health risks of FGM include:

  • Shock, haemorrhage and death
  • Wound infections, including tetanus and gangrene, as well as blood-borne viruses such as HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C
  • Damage to other organs, such as the urethra (where urine passes) and the bowel
  • Chronic vaginal and pelvic infections
  • Difficulty passing urine and persistent urine infections
  • Abnormal periods – increased pain, prolonged blood flow due to reduced vaginal opening
  • Kidney impairment and possible kidney failure
  • Permanently tender scar tissue
  • Pain during sex, lack of pleasurable sensation and related low libido
  • Damage to the reproductive system, including infertility
  • The need for later surgery to open the lower vagina for sexual intercourse and childbirth
  • Complications in pregnancy and labour, and new-born deaths
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Depression, anxiety and low self-esteem

You could be at risk of FGM if:

  • You have family members who have experienced FGM
  • Your husband’s family has experienced FGM
  • Your family or your husband’s family come from a FGM-practising country
  • Family or friends are talking about a ‘special procedure’, ‘special occasion’ or ‘becoming a woman’
  • Your family is planning a long holiday or a female elder is coming to visit

FGM is a global issue. Below is a list of the countries where some communities practise FGM. It is important to remember that British people descendant from these communities may be at risk, as might be women who marry into an FGM-practising community.

Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Colombia, Djibouti, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Indonesia, India, Iran, Iraq, Kenya, Kurdistan, Liberia, Malaysia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, Yemen.

FGM is usually carried out on girls between the ages of one and 15, but younger babies, older girls and women can be victims too.

FGM is a harmful traditional practice; multiple reasons and excuses for its continuation are given including to control sexuality, hygiene and as a form of initiating a girl into adulthood.

Although some claim FGM is carried out for religious reasons, FGM actually predates Islam, Christianity and Judaism and is not a requirement of any religion. Many religious leaders and organisations (including the Muslim Council of Britain and leaders from Pentecostal and Evangelical churches) have publicly condemned the practice.

Refuge has been providing specialist support to survivors of FGM in its refuges and outreach services for many years.

As well as providing services to support women, Refuge raises awareness of FGM amongst professionals working in communities. Refuge also contributes to Government FGM policy consultations. To read our most recent consultation on FGM and mandatory reporting, click here.

“I hadn’t considered my FGM until my key worker helped me to increase my knowledge and referred me to a specialist doctor. Through Refuge, I’ve been able to escape my situation and have been supported to get my life back on track.”


Imani*, who received support from one of Refuge’s gender-based violence services

*Names have been changed to protect anonymity

If you feel you may be at risk of, or have experienced, FGM, Refuge is here to support you. There are also other ways to access help:

  • If you or someone you know is at immediate risk of harm dial 999 immediately
  • If you are abroad and require help or advice, or you are worried about being taken abroad, call the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on +44 (0) 20 7008 1500
  • If you need to access support or need a safe place to stay call the Freephone 24-Hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247
  • If you believe a child is at risk please contact your local Children’s Social Care service or the police
  • To report a FGM crime anonymously contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111
  • If you need information or support: NSPCC FGM helpline 0800 028 3550 or email fgmhelp@nspcc.org.uk; Forward +44 (0)20 8960 4000 or email forward@forwarduk.org.uk
  • Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation +44 (0)207 920 6460
  • If you have experienced FGM and require medical attention speak to your GP or local NHS specialist FGM clinic directly
  • You can find the contact details for the NHS specialist clinics here