Rethinking the Definition of Medicalized Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting

Nina Van Eekert, Hazel Barrett, Samuel Kimani, Irwan Hidayana, Els Leye

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debate

1 Citation (Scopus)


In 2015, the international community agreed to end Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) by 2030. However, the target is unlikely to be met as changes in practice, including medicalized female genital mutilation/cutting (mFGM/C), challenge abandonment strategies. This paper critically reviews the current World Health Organization (WHO) definition of mFGM/C to demonstrate that mFGM/C, as currently defined, lacks detail and clarity, and may serve as an obstacle to the collection of credible, reliable, and comparable data relevant to targeted FGM/C prevention policies and programs. The paper argues that it is necessary to initiate a discussion on the revision of the current WHO definition of mFGM/C, where different components (who-how-where-what) should be taken into account. This is argued by discussing different scenarios that compare the current WHO definition of mFGM/C with the actual practice of FGM/C on the ground. The cases discussed within these scenarios are based on existing published research and the research experience of the authors. The scenarios focus on countries where mFGM/C is prevalent among girls under 18 years, using data from Demographic Health Surveys and/or Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys, and thus the focus is on the Global South. The paper places its arguments in relation to wider debates concerning female genital cosmetic surgery, male genital circumcision and consent. It calls for more research on these topics to ensure that definitions of FGM/C and mFGM/C reflect the real-world contexts and ensure that the human rights of girls and women are protected.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)441-453
Number of pages13
JournalArchives of Sexual Behavior
Issue number2
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2024


  • Female genital mutilation/cutting
  • Female genital mutilation/cutting scenarios
  • Medicalized female genital mutilation/cutting
  • United Nations sustainable development goals


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