Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C)

Female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C) is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”1(p.1) These procedures could mean piercing, cutting, removing, or sewing closed all or part of a girl’s or woman’s external genitals.

Worldwide, as many as 200 million girls and women have experienced FGM/C.2 Researchers in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Reproductive Health (CDC) estimate that as many as half a million girls and women in the United States (U.S.) have undergone FGM/C in the past or may be at risk for undergoing FGM/C in the future.3 Although FGM/C is often viewed as part of the culture of the countries where it is practiced, it has no health benefits. In fact, it can lead to immediate and long-term health problems that can affect obstetric, gynecological, sexual, and psychological health. A scoping review on FGM/C in the United States found that women and men from FGM/C-practicing countries living in the United States oppose FGM/C.4 Also, women with FGM/C have significant physical and mental health needs and have found US healthcare providers to lack understanding of FGM/C. 4

To learn more about FGM/C in the U.S., please visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office on Women’s Health’s webpage and factsheet on FGM/C. You can learn more about FGM/C globally on the WHO website.

What Is CDC doing?

Estimating the potential burden of FGM/C in the U.S.

Since the late 1990s, CDC has focused on methods to estimate the potential burden of FGM/C in the U.S. In 2016, CDC published indirect estimates of the number of U.S.-resident women potentially affected by or at risk for FGM/C, indicating that as many as 513,000 girls and women could have experienced FGM/C or be at risk of experiencing it in the future. This number was a three-fold increase from a 1997 estimate and was largely due to the growing number of U.S. residents from countries where FGM/C is practiced.

Documenting FGM/C in the U.S.

Women's Health Needs Study logo

CDC engaged the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago to design, pilot, and carry out the Women’s Health Needs Study (WHNS). WHNS was the first multi-site study in the U.S. to collect information on FGM/C and related health characteristics, behaviors, and attitudes from U.S.-resident women aged 18 to 49 who were born, or whose mothers were born, in a country where FGM/C is a prevalent practice.

The WHNS pilot study was completed in 2019. The multi-site study was implemented in 2021 in four U.S. communities with high concentrations of populations from high FGM/C-prevalence countries.

WHNS collected information on women’s health experiences and needs in selected communities in the United States with high concentrations of residents from countries where FGM/C is prevalent. WHNS assessed the extent to which FGM/C affects women in these communities, women’s attitudes about continuance of the practice, and their health experiences. Findings on women’s health needs, experiences, and attitudes related to FGM/C may be used to inform and plan programs, services, and prevention efforts.

Among the 1,132 women who participated in the WHNS multi-site study, 55% experienced FGM/C and most women (91%) believed that FGM/C should be stopped. 5 Compared to women without FGM/C, women with FGM/C were more likely to report health concerns related to childbirth, reproductive health, sexual health, and feeling sad. 5

To learn more about the WHNS, please visit NORC’S webpage on the study.

Related Links
  • CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (NCEZID), Division of Global Migration and Quarantine (DGMQ) includes information on FGM/C in their Refugee Health Guidelines.
  • FGM/C fact sheet from the HHS Office on Women’s Health discusses FGM/C types, health problems associated with the practice, and where it is common, among other topics.
  • WHO comprehensive FGM/C information.
  • United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) prevalence estimates of FGM/C globally, as well as publications and resources related to FGM/C in countries where the practice is common.
  1. WHO. (2008). Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation, An Interagency Statement.
  2. UNICEF. (2016). Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A Global Concern.
  3. Goldberg, H., Stupp, P., Okoroh, E., Besera, G., Goodman, D. and Danel, I. (2016). Female genital mutilation/cutting in the United States: Updated estimates of women and girls at risk, 2012Public Health Reports, 131, 1–8.
  4. Besera, G., Goldberg, H., Okoroh, E.M., Snead, M.C., Johnson-Agbakwu, C.E., and Goodwin, M.M. (2023). Attitudes and experiences surrounding female genital mutilation/cutting in the United States: a scoping review. J Immigr Minor Health, 25(2), 449-482.
  5. NORC at the University of Chicago. (2023). Women’s Health Needs Study Infographic.