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. 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/Cexternal icon. You can learn more about FGM/C globallyexternal icon 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 estimatesexternal icon 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 estimateexternal icon 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 has 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 will be 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.

WHNS will collect scientifically valid, current 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 will assess 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 can be used to inform and plan programs, services, and prevention efforts.

The WHNS pilot study was completed in 2019. The multi-site study is planned to be implemented in 2020-21 in up to six U.S. communities with high concentrations of populations from high FGM/C-prevalence countries.

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

Related Links