Women’s access to finance as a strategy to end female genital mutilation

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is the partial or complete removal of external female genitalia for cultural or non-medical reasons. It is a deeply ingrained practice within intricate sociocultural systems that have persisted for over two millennia.

Over 200 million girls and women worldwide have undergone FGM, with documented cases in 30 countries predominantly located in Africa, the Middle East, South America and Asia. FGM leads to severe consequences including infertility, infibulation and defibulation, infections, psychological trauma and even death. UNICEF estimates that more than 3 million girls aged 15 and below are at risk of FGM globally every year.

Despite legal prohibitions in most countries and the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of a global ban on FGM, the practice persists in various communities across continents. FGM stands as a clear violation of the human rights of girls as recognized by numerous international treaties. It contravenes fundamental principles of equality and non-discrimination based on gender, the right to life, freedom from torture and the right to the highest attainable standard of health.

FGM and poverty

The correlation between FGM and poverty has been extensively studied, revealing a profound connection to underdevelopment in communities where the practice persists. This connection is deeply entrenched in the pervasive political, social, and economic disparity between genders. Efforts to combat FGM have focused on two main strategies: empowerment and education.Education initiatives promote collaboration between policymakers and grassroots leaders to challenge discriminatory rationales behind FGM, change harmful cultural norms, empower women and girls, raise awareness about risks, address religious beliefs, confront secrecy and advocate for legislative bans where FGM is legal. The work being done by organizations like End FGM Canada Network and Amref Health Africa embody these efforts.

The cost of FGM

FGM poses significant social and economic obstacles, particularly in African regions where it can be tied to lengthy initiation rituals, delaying or preventing girls’ education. Health complications and emotional trauma from FGM lead to frequent absences and decreased focus in school, hindering educational progress and potentially forcing early dropout. This deprives girls of essential knowledge and opportunities, including information on health, nutrition and legal rights.

Societal pressure for FGM arises from cultural views on marriageability and economic gains. Post-FGM, girls are seen as marriageable and bring financial benefits to their families, while uncut girls face stigma, deemed undesirable for marriage, leading to social exclusion and financial consequences. This pressure, combined with the costs of marriage ceremonies, pushes families to marry off daughters early, resulting in early pregnancies and continuing the cycle of disadvantage.

Promoting financial access for women

Women residing in regions where FGM is most prevalent encounter disproportionate hurdles in accessing financial services, hindering their ability to uplift both themselves and their families. The journey for women entrepreneurs to secure financial services is notably more arduous compared to men. Data suggests that in developing economies, women are 20 per cent less likely to possess formal bank accounts and 17 per cent less likely to secure formal financial loans than their male counterparts.

Unlocking access to credit holds immense promise in opening up economic avenues for women. Empowering women economically is fundamental to realizing gender equality and upholding women’s rights. This empowerment encompasses various aspects such as equal participation in markets, control over productive resources, access to decent work, autonomy over their lives, and enhanced involvement in economic decision-making at all levels.

The economic empowerment of women plays a pivotal role in advancing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and achieving goals like gender equality, promotion of full and productive employment, poverty eradication, food security, ensuring health, and reducing inequalities. FGM is especially linked with combating extreme poverty, as girls subjected to it face increased risks of forced child marriages, persistent poverty, and limited educational opportunities.

Achieving these goals requires a focus on financial inclusion – characterized by providing affordable, sustainable, and quality financial services to the underserved. Financial inclusion is widely acknowledged as a crucial pathway for poverty reduction and economic growth. For victims of FGM, who are often economically vulnerable and unable to participate fully in the economy, inclusion is especially important.

The battle against FGM is being waged on multiple fronts, with grassroots women empowerment and education initiatives playing a pivotal role. While advocacy and education are essential, enhancing women’s access to financial resources can equally serve as a valuable tool in the fight against this detrimental practice.


March 27, 2024


Tonny Asiago Siekei, Ph. D student and an Anti-FGM and Early childhood marriage Activist