Gender Transformative Approaches for the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation

Originally published




At least 200 million girls and women worldwide have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM), and more than four million girls are at risk annually. Recognized internationally as a violation of girls’ and women’s human rights,
FGM has multiple negative consequences in the lives of girls and women, including medical, psychological, emotional and social problems, and even loss of life. Girls subjected to FGM are also at risk of early/child marriage, dropping out of school, and reduced opportunities for growth, development and sustainable incomes.

While communities cite numerous reasons for having girls undergo FGM, as a gendered harmful practice, it is an expression of power and control over girls’ and women’s bodies and their sexuality. FGM as a form of genderbased violence (GBV) is rooted in unequal power relations between men and women that are embedded in a system that sustains itself through discriminatory gender stereotypes and norms, and unequal access to and control over resources. For girls and women with limited skills, competencies, and assets, marriage is often a matter of economic security and social inclusion. As a result, FGM is often performed to enhance a girl’s marriageability. Although parents may be aware of the risks involved with FGM, they will often have their daughters undergo the practice as the gains (economic security and social inclusion) outweigh the loss (health consequences).

For more than two decades, global consensus has been that the elimination of FGM contributes to the achievement of gender equality. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in 1995 identified ending FGM as essential to realizing girls’ rights. The 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) renewed this commitment by introducing target 5.3 which calls for the elimination of FGM under Goal 5, achieving gender equality and women and girls’ empowerment. In Africa, the continent with the highest FGM prevalence rates, the African Union adopted in 2003 the Maputo Protocol which includes specific provisions banning FGM and launched in 2014 Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want, which calls for ending gender discrimination and all forms of GBV including FGM.

UNICEF addresses FGM by ensuring girls are educated, empowered, healthy, and free from violence and discrimination. Working in 22 countries1 , UNICEF supports enabling policies and legislation that protect the human rights of girls and women; access to comprehensive child protection systems that include health care, social welfare, and legal services; ensure girls’ access to education and life skills development; mobilize communities to shift discriminatory social and gender norms that perpetuate harmful practices; and build a global evidence base through data collection and research.

UNICEF also jointly leads with UNFPA the largest global programme supporting the elimination of FGM. The UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation: Accelerating Change (Joint Programme) works across 17 countries2. Following consultations for the design of Phase III of the Joint Programme in 2017, and the Joint Evaluation of Phases I and II (2008-2017) released in 2019, recommendations included a more explicit focus on gender transformation such as the strategic placement of FGM within a gender equality framework, articulating FGM drivers and elimination within a gender equality continuum, and gathering evidence related to FGM as a manifestation of gender inequality.

Based on recommendations from the Joint Programme and UNICEF’s experience in implementing programmes addressing FGM, this technical note provides an overview of gender transformative approaches to ending FGM including programme strategies, reference tools and resources, and case studies. The case studies in this technical note are drawn from UNICEF’s work on FGM. The technical note also highlights the distinction between social and gender norms. Programmes seeking to shift social norms do not necessarily focus on the individuals upholding norms. Addressing gender norms requires understanding gender as a hierarchical system that disadvantages girls and women as well as non-conforming men and boys.


  1. To promote a common understanding of the role of social and gender norms in sustaining FGM as a harmful practice;

  2. To provide guidance on the adoption and integration of gender transformative approaches to FGM elimination with UNICEF’s country programme cycle.


This technical note is intended for programme staff at UNICEF and other UN agencies, as well as key stakeholders addressing FGM including civil society, communities, governments, and researchers, from the grassroots to the global level.


Gender transformative approaches are presented within UNICEF’s six-step country programme cycle: 1) evidence and analysis, 2) programme design, 3) implementation, 4) monitoring, 5) reporting, and 6) evaluation.