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FGM in the Americas

Where are women living with the consequences of female genital mutilation or at risk in the Americas? 

  • CANADA – There are no official estimates of the number of survivors of female genital mutilation living in Canada, or women and girls at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation. The Canadian Border Services Agency has stated that “it is almost certain” that female genital mutilation is also happening in Canada. The Canadian federal government has estimated that a few thousand girls are at risk of undergoing the procedure since Canada has sizeable populations of diaspora communities from countries where female genital mutilation is known to be practiced.
  • COLOMBIA Type I female genital mutilation is known to be practiced by the Embera indigenous people in Colombia, normally on newborn babies. Media reports also indicate that some other indigenous communities like the Nasa community may practice female genital mutilation.
  • UNITED STATES – Female genital mutilation is widely known to take place among diaspora communities in the United States. Less known are the stories of female genital mutilation occurring in the local population, including within Christian communities. An estimated 513,000* women and girls nationwide are at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation.

Countries with historical evidence of the practice of female genital mutilation in the Americas 

In a number of countries, including Peru, Mexico, and Brazil, there is historical evidence of female genital mutilation having taken place among the native population within the last generation. However, further research is needed to confirm whether or not the practice has died out or if it persists. Further research is needed in these countries to confirm whether female genital mutilation is still taking place or not. 

  • Peru: The practice of introcision has been reported in the past among the Conibos, a division of Pano Indians from Peru. (OHCHR, 1995). Introcision has been described as a practice where an elderly woman using a bamboo knife “cuts around the hymen from the vaginal entrance and severs the hymen from the labia, at the same time exposing the clitoris. Medicinal herbs are applied.” A documentary film from 2017 (Chua) documents the existence of female genital mutilation among the Shipibo people in Peru in the form of clitoridectomies (Type I FGM). Community members, however, reported that the practice was last known to take place around forty years ago and that it had been abandoned by the community. There is no recent evidence from Peru which documents the continued existence of female genital mutilation within the country. 
  • Brazil and Mexico: A report from the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights from 1995 reports the practice of “introcision” in Brazil and eastern Mexico (OHCHR, 1995). Introcision is usually defined as the enlarging or tearing of the vaginal opening and in some cases the perineum as well. Clitoridectomies (Type I FGM) have been reported in the past in Western Brazil and Mexico until the late 1970s (Rushwan, 2013), though there is insufficient evidence to determine current practice.
  • In addition, there is evidence of white communities in the U.S. and the U.K being subjected to female genital mutilation, as doctors used to prescribe clitoridectomies (Type I FGM) as a cure for hysteria,  mental illness and masturbation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. 

Are there laws against female genital mutilation in the Americas? 

Due to a legal challenge that left the federal-level law against FGM in limbo, the US has had a patchwork approach to protecting women and girls from FGM for the past two years. However, in January 2021, thanks to the determination of anti-FGM activists across the country, the Stop FGM Act was signed into law. The STOP FGM Act grants federal protection from FGM, includes an updated definition of FGM, and provides a reporting requirement for federal agencies, in addition to linking FGM to interstate commerce.

Canada has specific laws or legal provisions against female genital mutilation. 

There are no specific laws or legal provisions against female genital mutilation in Latin America.