16 June 2022

Millions Affected: Mali Country Profile Reveals Alarming Prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting and Urgent Call to Action

Blog by Savannah Grantham for the FGM/C Research Initiative

Millions of girls and women in Mali have been impacted by the common and persistent practice of female genital mutilation/cutting (‘FGM/C’). Orchid Project’s Mali Country Profile Update provides a thorough analysis of the practice of FGM/C in Mali, highlighting its history and effects, the beliefs surrounding it, and future steps for ending this harmful tradition.

Prevalence and Trends

In 2018, the prevalence of FGM/C in Mali stood at 88.6%, indicating that it is a deeply rooted tradition that is engrained in the country’s culture. The abovementioned report estimates that more than four million girls have had FGM/C in the previous 20 years. This startling prevalence highlights the critical need for focused initiatives to prevent FGM/C and protect the rights and welfare of women and girls in Mali.

Understanding the Situation

The frequency of cutting varies by location, as cultures in the south and north-east vary considerably. An important factor is ethnicity, since some ethnic groups have historically practised FGM/C, while others have not. Additionally, evidence shows a worrying trend of girls being subjected to FGM/C at younger and younger ages.

Mali’s population has changed significantly during the last 20 years, almost doubling from 11.5 million in 2002 to 21 million in 2022. Surprisingly, despite this increase, the prevalence of FGM/C has stayed quite stable among women aged 15 to 49.

Health Consequences and Impact

Studies indicate that approximately a third of girls who have undergone FGM/C in Mali experience an immediate complication. A significant proportion face long-term health risks. These complications include a higher likelihood of infections, chronic pain, and obstetric problems during childbirth, placing both the survivors and their offspring at risk.

Moreover, it is estimated that the prevalence of FGM/C among girls under five years of age has been increasing over the past two decades, highlighting the urgency of addressing this issue to with teens and young mothers to prevent harm to their children and protect the health and wellbeing of future generations.

Health consequences such as difficulty delivering children, which are almost universal in Mali, stress the healthcare system and negatively influence women’s and children’s wellbeing. There is a need for comprehensive healthcare services and assistance for FGM/C survivors in Mali.

Media Access and Awareness

It has become clear that access to the media plays a critical role in influencing attitudes and beliefs about FGM/C. The Country Profile Update demonstrates that numerous Malian women lack regular access to television, radio or newspapers, which limits their exposure to vital information and awareness campaigns on FGM/C and other important issues.

Radio emerges as the most utilised medium in Mali – a substantial portion of the population relies on it for information.

Improving media accessibility and spreading factual knowledge about the harmful consequences of FGM/C are essential measures in promoting social transformation and improving gender equality in Mali.

Regional Differences and Ethnic Influences

The frequency of FGM/C varies greatly between Mali’s regions, from less than 2% in the north-east to 96% in the country’s centre and south. These disparities frequently correspond with ethnic groupings, emphasising the need for customised interventions that identify and target the unique drivers within each community. For example, historically the Tuareg in the north refrain from FGM/C, but portions of Niger-Congo people in the south carry on with the procedure because of custom and cultural beliefs.

Understanding the Practice

The history of FGM/C in Mali is complex. Data from recent Demographic and Health Surveys also show changing patterns. Women between the ages of 15 and 49 report different kinds of FGM/C. In addition, the cutting age has dropped dramatically. A startling amount of girls undergo FGM/C before they turn five. Since traditional cutters continue to be the principal practitioners, community-specific participation and education are essential.

Challenges and Recommendations

The report identifies challenges that are hindering the efforts to combat FGM/C in Mali.

  • Absence of a Legal Framework: In spite of legislation proposals, advocacy is hampered by the lack of a prohibition on FGM/C and by cross-border cutting.
  • Ethnic Disparities: Differences in the frequency of cutting between ethnic groups call for focused interventions that take into account the norms and beliefs unique to each community.
  • Patriarchal Gender Norms: Tightly woven patriarchal systems uphold harmful practices such as FGM/C and demand innovative solutions to changing gender norms.
  • Attitude Shift: The need for ongoing advocacy and communication is highlighted by mistaken (but long held) beliefs such as the idea that FGM/C is required by Islam.

At every level, immediate action is needed; for example:

  • Mali’s Government should prioritise national awareness campaigns and enact legislation outlawing FGM/C;
  • stakeholders need to collaborate with religious leaders, target interventions and conduct knowledge-sharing workshops; and
  • ECOWAS, African Union and the United Nations must advocate for legislative measures and for the Government to uphold its human-rights obligations.

To sum up, this Country Profile Update on FGM/C in Mali provides a thorough understanding of the state of FGM/C in the nation, highlighting enduring issues and the urgent need for focused interventions and legislative changes. By taking up the report’s recommendations, stakeholders can work together to promote a society in which women and girls are free from the harmful impacts of the practice.

To access the full Country Profile Update on FGM/C in Mali and delve deeper into the data and recommendations, click [here].