In 1996, Congress directed the Department of Health and Human Services to develop estimates of how many women and girls were with or at risk for female genital cutting (FGC) in the United States. This initial report, published by the Center for Disease Control, found that in 1990 there were an estimated 168,000 girls and women living in the United States with or at risk for FGC. Now, for the first time, a team led by Nawal Nour, MD, director of the African Women’s Health Center (AWHC) at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) reports that these numbers are increasing.
According to new data based on the 2000 census, approximately 228,000 women and girls are with or at risk for FGC.
Additional key findings from the report include:
From 1990 to 2000, the number of women with or at risk for FGC grew by approximately 35 percent in the United States.
More than 165,000 females living in the United States over the age of 18 are with or considered at risk for FGC.
27 percent of the women with or at risk are under the age of 18.
California, New York and Maryland have the most female immigrants and refugees from countries where FGC is prevalent. This suggests that these states may have a very high number of women at risk for FGC compared to other states.
There are an estimated 5,231 women and girls living in Massachusetts at risk for FGC.
More than 130 million women worldwide have undergone FGC. Steeped in a strong cultural belief that views it as a rite of passage, FGC involves the removal of external genitalia in young girls when they are between the ages of five and 12. Some of the risks associated with the procedure include disability and premature death.
“The number of women who have undergone female genital cutting in this country is rising,” said Nour, a Sudanese-American, who is a board certified Obstetrician and Gynecologist who received the 2004 MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship in recognition for establishing the AWHC. “Many of these women have received inadequate culturally appropriate care. Given that health providers will increasingly be seeing women with female genital cutting, a greater knowledge and understanding is necessary in order to provide them with better care and treatment.”
Opened in 1999, the AWHC was created to provide specialized, holistic, comprehensive care to African refugee women living in the United States. Many of them have undergone the tradition of FGC and are living with the health complications of this procedure. The Center is home to the first and only African health practice in the United States that focuses on issues regarding FGC.
“To prepare and respond to this special population requires a better understanding of trends and statistics, so it was natural that our Center play an role in educating public health experts and women’s health providers with the most up-to-date information on the number of women impacted by this tradition,” said Nour. “One of the next phases in our research program is to study the effects of reconstructive surgery on body image, health and sexual function for those women who have undergone the most severe forms of female genital cutting.”