The world must stop female genital mutilation

I was fortunate to be part of a recent UNICEF mission to Egypt. The people I met there were amazing. I had the honor of hearing and learning from brilliant, kind and hopeful Egyptians; their enthusiasm to connect with the global community was palpable. They are among the many Egyptians working hard to modernize their economy, increase access to education and improve their infrastructure to develop their country, but almost 90% of Egyptian women between the ages of 15 and 49 have been subjected to barbaric practice. female genital mutilation (FGM).

A girl listens to a meeting of a women’s group against female genital mutilation (FGM), on January 31, 2018, in the village of Alakas, on the border with Kenya, northeast Uganda.

Female genital mutilation is the ultimate expression of patriarchy: removing authority over one’s own body, and especially one’s own sexual organs, in a violent act aimed only at women and girls. Egypt is not the only country where this happens, although it is one of the countries where it is most prevalent, along with Ethiopia and Indonesia. In fact, in the nearly three dozen countries where this abuse of women occurs, more than 200 million women and girls have been victimized. In some countries, medical professionals violate their oath to do no harm in order to perform this mutilation. In others, it has moved underground, leading to increased medical risk and cutting occurring at a younger age, i.e. before age 15, the age at which most girls are subjected to FGM. And these medical risks are serious, including hemorrhage, infection, urinary retention and severe pain, not to mention social risks, including an increased likelihood of poverty and school dropout. All this while FGM is recognized worldwide as a violation of human rights.

The large number of women and girls at risk of FGM simply cannot be ignored. UNICEF estimates that 4 million girls in the 31 countries where FGM is practiced are at risk. It’s getting worse. It is estimated that by 2030 almost a third of all girls on Earth will be born in countries where FGM is known. It will put 68 million girls at risk – and if the international community and local activists don’t unite to end FGM, there will be even more women and girls subjected to the practice in the future than today today. And it’s a global problem, not just for African and Asian nations. There is evidence that FGM occurs in Europe, North America and Australia. We can’t let it happen.

Alyssa Milano, UNICEF Ambassador
UNICEF Ambassador Alyssa Milano recently traveled to Egypt with UNICEF where she learned from young women about the challenges they face regarding climate, violence, access to education and bodily autonomy, including female genital mutilation. Alyssa sits in a Dawwie circle alongside UNICEF Egypt staff member Dina Heikel.
Photo courtesy of BEE Media

Since FGM is a cultural, economic and political problem, it requires cultural, economic and political responses. UNICEF works hard to fight FGM around the world on all fronts, which is one of the many reasons why I am so proud to have served as a UNICEF Ambassador for the past 20 years. The organization has implemented community-led protection systems in nearly 4,000 communities where women and girls are known to be at risk. UNICEF also supports the development of policies and laws focused on the elimination and prohibition of FGM. It helps provide girls at risk of FGM, as well as FGM survivors, with access to appropriate care, while mobilizing communities to transform social norms that support the practice. In addition to this, it strives to provide equal access to education and economic opportunities for girls and women around the world. This is an immeasurable task, and UNICEF cannot do it alone.

February 6 is designated worldwide as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation. Today, and every day, we need the support of leaders and people everywhere to ensure that women and girls are always in control of their own bodies, wherever they live.

These women matter. Their autonomy matters. Their future matters. My life’s work is dedicated to ensuring equality and freedom—true freedom—for women everywhere. If you care, as I do, about freedom, self-determination and equality for all of us, then I urge you to join me in calling on your leaders to support the essential work of UNICEF in this area. . To learn more, visit

Alyssa Milano is an actress best known for her roles as Samantha Micelli in the sitcom Who’s the boss? and as Phoebe Halliwell on Charm. More recently, Alyssa starred in Cheeky And Insatiable on Netflix. Alyssa is a New York Times best-selling author who co-wrote Hope: Middle School Project, Hope: Animal Rescue Project, Hope: Project Class President, And Hope: Go Green Project. His most recent book, sorry not sorry, talks about his life, career and humanitarian work to critical acclaim. Alyssa also hosts a weekly podcast called sorry not sorry. For 20 years, Alyssa has been a dedicated National Ambassador for UNICEF, going above and beyond to support children around the world.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.


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