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FGM in Portugal: scientific study points the way to eliminating the practice

A study co-funded by FCT and the Commission for Citizenship and Gender Equality (CIG), presents the first scientific data on the prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Portugal. The team, led by Manuel Lisboa, from CESNOVA (New University of Lisbon), also analyzed the perception and knowledge of communities and health professionals regarding the practice of FGM, the clinical response structures and the existing public policies for its elimination. The study, which includes recommendations for further combating and preventing FGM, is considered a much needed starting point for the work to be developed in the 3rd action program of the National Plan to Combat and Prevent Domestic and Gender-Based Violence.

In the communities where it is prevalent, FGM is commonly practiced on girls between zero and 15 years old, but also on adult women, depending on the communities and the socio-cultural context. It is recognized as a serious violation of the human rights of women of all ages, being clearly condemned in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and prohibited in several international conventions. Portugal receives migrants from countries where the practice is carried out (Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, among others), but until now there were no data on the prevalence of the practice in Portugal.

Data on the prevalence of FGM in the countries of origin of the women potentially affected by the practice was precisely the starting point for the estimation of FGM prevalence in Portugal. Using an approach used in recent studies in other countries, the researchers applied to the number of women living in Portugal from FGM countries (aged between 15 and 49 years) the prevalence in the countries of origin. The analysis was then extended to women over 49 years old. The results point to more than 6,500 women who may have undergone FGM in Portugal. It is in the districts of Lisbon and Setúbal that the largest number of women are concentrated, followed by the district of Faro. The disaggregation of prevalence data by district (and even by council) is particularly useful for the development and implementation of information, identification and elimination programs for local action. 

To understand the contexts and characteristics inherent to the practice of FGM, the researchers surveyed 123 men and women from the communities identified in the prevalence study (87 women and 36 men). The vast majority of respondents do not consider FGM a "good practice" (99% of women; 94% of men). Among women, 40% said they had a woman or girl in their family who had been subjected to the practice; for men, this figure was 18%. Five percent of the women surveyed are considering submitting their future daughters to the practice, and 6% of the men would like their future wife to be excised.

The surveys were completed through in-depth interviews with women who have and have not undergone the practice, with men from countries where FGM is practiced, and with health professionals and leaders of immigrant associations. The women recognize FGM as a harmful practice, wrapped in a cultural and religious ritual. Men show some ambivalence regarding FGM: they recognize it as a harmful practice, but, in addition to considering it a "women's issue", they point out its importance to the insertion of girls and women in the communities.

The study resulted from the work of a multidisciplinary team, integrating several scientific areas: Sociology, Anthropology, Psychology, Women's Studies, Gynecology, Sexology, Public Health, Law and Statistics. The project was selected by a panel of international experts, among several proposals submitted to the Call launched by FCT in 2013, as part of the protocol signed with the Commission for Citizenship and Gender Equality.

The report of the study "Female Genital Mutilation: prevalence, sociocultural dynamics, and recommendations for its elimination", was publicly presented on July 15th, and is available here and also on the IGC website.