It takes place elsewhere, too. Women's rights activists attend a conference titled "Female Genital Mutilation in Germany" in October 2019. (Britta Pedersen/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Beyond Human Rights: WHO Cites Economic Impact of FGM

Female genital mutilation, most common in Middle East, North Africa and Asia, costs societies $1.4 billion annually for treatment, UN health body says

According to a report issued on February 6 by the World Health Organization (WHO), medical attention sought as a result of female genital mutilation (FGM) costs $1.4 billion globally each year.

The practice is common is certain parts of the world, including the Middle East and North Africa, with especially high rates in Yemen, Iraq, Egypt and Sudan.

Egypt has the highest rate in the region. Just last week, a 12-year girl died there after undergoing FGM, which the WHO describes as a practice that “involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”

In 2019, Egypt spent $876.9 million on FGM-related costs on approximately 38.4 million cases, both new and old, according to the WHO, which says that FGM has long-term health implications.

It says that if nothing changes, the practice will cost the country around $1.2 billion by 2048. If the number of procedures is halved by that time, the figure would drop to $1 billion. If FGM were eliminated immediately, the cost in 2048 would drop to $515.4 million.

In Sudan, if nothing changes, the country will spend $465.1 million in 2048, according to WHO estimates. If the practice ends immediately, Khartoum would save $301.4 million by 2048. Sudan spent $276.6 million treating 14.4 million cases, both old and new, in 2019.

If FGM is stopped immediately in Yemen, that country could save approximately $21 million in 2048, according to the WHO, about the same amount it spent in 2019 on 2 million cases. Unchecked, Yemen will spend an estimated $32.7 million in 2048.

Iraq disbursed $6.5 million dollars on approximately 1 million FGM cases in 2019. The WHO models predict that the country could conserve approximately $8.4 million dollars in 2048 if the ritual is ended now, as opposed to $12.3 million if not.

FGM also takes place in Oman, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iran and parts of the United Arab Emirates, but there are no national statistics kept by these countries. While the WHO says it is not practiced in Qatar, other NGOs, like Humaniun, a Europe-based rights group, report otherwise.

Even though countries could reduce the amount of money they spend on FGM treatments by hundreds of millions of dollars if the practice were to cease, the process to eliminate it is not simple.

Christina Pallitto, a scientist at the WHO, told The Media Line: “The prevalence of FGM has decreased in most countries, and an increasing number of women and men in practicing communities support ending [it]. Despite some progress however, the overall rate of decline in the prevalence of female genital mutilation has been slow.”

Pallitto adds that approximately 3 million girls around the world are “at risk” for FGM each year.

According to Juliette Touma, regional chief of communications for UNICEF in the Middle East and North Africa, there are many obstacles to combatting the practice.

“There are religious, cultural and social barriers. It’s deeply entrenched in society,” she told The Media Line.

“It’s a violation of women’s and children’s rights and has horrific consequences, both physically and emotionally,” she said.

According to the WHO, FGM is most commonly performed before a girl turns 16.

While there are many countries in the region that have outlawed the custom, this does not necessarily mean an end to the practice. Egypt passed such legislation in 2008, but Suad Abu-Dayyeh, gender advisor at Equality Now MENA region, says it took five years for the first case to come before an Egyptian court.

“Just because there is a law, it doesn’t mean that it will be fully [followed],” she told The Media Line. “The practice is done by either doctors or nurses in private [hospitals] and, unfortunately, in government-run hospitals.”

As such, UNICEF’s Touma contends that enforcement is a critical component in banning the practice.

“It’s not just about having laws; it’s about monitoring the implementation of these laws, and holding those who break the laws accountable,” she said.

Equality Now’s Abu-Dayyeh believes that the fact FGM is institutionalized in some countries means NGOs should concentrate their efforts on those in the medical professions.

“They should work with doctors in the upper part of Egypt and in so many other places where FGM is prevalent,” she said.

“I really wish FGM would disappear,” she added, “and we would be talking about it as if it were history because this is not only humiliating for girls and women, it’s a crime and a violation of their freedom.”

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