Last Updated: Thursday, 28 May 2020, 15:44 GMT

Yemen: Report on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or Female Genital Cutting (FGC)

Publisher United States Department of State
Author Office of the Senior Coordinator for International Women's Issues
Publication Date 1 June 2001
Cite as United States Department of State, Yemen: Report on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or Female Genital Cutting (FGC), 1 June 2001, available at: [accessed 29 May 2020]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Released by the Office of the Senior Coordinator for International Women's Issues

The most common form of female genital mutilation (FGM) or female genital cutting (FGC) practiced in Yemen is Type II (commonly referred to as excision). Type III (commonly referred to as infibulation) is practiced among the small East African immigrant/refugee community.

According to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funded 1997 Yemen Demographic Mother and Child Health Survey, 23 percent of Yemeni women have undergone one of these procedures. In the sparsely populated Red Sea and Aden Coastal regions, this percentage rises to 69 percent, compared with 15 percent in the heavily populated highlands and 5 percent in the plateau and desert regions.

During the past two years, the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) has conducted several studies on FGM/FGC with a focus on five Governorates – Sanaa City, Hodeidah, Hadramout, Aden and Al-Maharah. The studies included over 3000 men and women, including FGM/FGC practitioners and clerics. The studies sought to determine the extent of the practice and to analyze its attitudinal and physiological aspects.

Findings of these studies revealed that over 96 percent of women in Hodeidah, Hadraumaut and Al-Maharah had undergone this procedure, while Aden and Sana'a city were 82 percent and 45.5 percent, respectively. Seventy percent of the procedures involved excision. The studies revealed that trained medical personnel performed only ten percent of the operations. Women who specialize in ear piercing, birth attendants, rayissas (women skilled in female circumcision) and relatives carry out most of the procedures.

According to the studies, the procedure is carried out 95 percent of the time in the home. Mothers are the primary decision-makers in determining if their daughters are to undergo this procedure.

The Demographic and Health Survey found that nearly all the procedures reported (97 percent) occurred during the first month of life. Health establishments housed only three percent of these, with 97 percent performed at home. A traditional birth attendant (TBA) or elderly female relative usually performs the procedure (68 percent and 19 percent respectively). Nurses, midwives and doctors perform seven percent of the procedures while barbers perform five percent of them. The usual tool is a razor blade, although scissors are used 20 percent of the time.

In Yemen, different religious sects hold different beliefs on whether or not a girl should undergo this procedure. The Shafi'i sect requires girls to be circumcised while the procedure is optional for those belonging to the Sunni sect.

Attitudes and Beliefs:
Nearly 48 percent of the Demographic Survey's respondents who know of this practice believed it should be discontinued. Eleven percent was unsure and the remainder was in favor of its continuation. Those who support the practice are confined to those who have undergone the procedure themselves.

Urban and educated women, despite a higher rate of circumcision among them, were less likely to support continuation of the practice. Most of those who support the practice cited cleanliness (46 percent of respondents in favor) as the reason for the practice. About one-third also cited either religious obligation or tradition.

Among the opponents of the practice, 68 percent oppose it because they consider it a bad tradition while one-third believe it to be anti-Islamic. Educated women were more likely to cite medical complications as a reason to discontinue the practice.

In the MOPH studies, of the 39 clerics who participated, 72 percent wanted the practice to continue for reasons of religious mandate, virginity and tradition. Those who opposed the practice said it was against women's dignity, not consistent with religious teachings and a generally bad habit. The men who participated in these studies were evenly split in the debate on whether the practice should continue.

The MOPH studies confirmed that the incidence of FGM/FGC is decreasing as women receive higher education. The daughters of 87 percent of the illiterate women had undergone this procedure while for daughters of university graduate mothers, this figure drops to 37 percent.

Type II:
Type II is the excision (removal) of the clitoris together with part or all of the labia minora (the inner vaginal lips).

Type III:
Type III is the excision (removal) of part or all of the external genitalia (clitoris, labia minora and labia majora) and stitching or narrowing of the vaginal opening, leaving a very small opening, about the size of a matchstick, to allow for the flow of urine and menstrual blood. The girl or woman's legs are generally bound together from the hip to the ankle so she remains immobile for approximately 40 days to allow for the formation of scar tissue.

Outreach Activities:
Health officials, including the Minister of Public Health, and health care providers have publicly decried this practice. At a July 2, 2000 National Women's Committee (NWC) conference and at a lunch held July 11, 2000 to observe World Population Day, a representative from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) described this practice as a form of violence against women.

The Ministry of Public Health sponsored a two-day seminar January 9-10, 2001 entitled "Female Health" on FGM/FGC. It was funded primarily by the U.S. MacArthur Foundation. Nearly 150 academics, health professionals, government officials, donors and clerics attended. This conference marks the first time FGM/FGC has been publicly discussed in Yemen. In his opening remarks, the Minister of Public Health described this practice as a form of violence against women and a violation of their human rights.

A plan of action to reduce the incidence of FGM/FGC in Yemen was established at the conference. Religious leaders were tasked to provide a legal opinion on FGM/FGC in consultation with doctors. Concerned ministries were asked to develop a public awareness campaign in areas most affected by this practice. The MOPH was asked to conduct a nationwide study to determine the extent of this problem. It was recommended that this subject be included in the curricula at medical schools, health institutes and literacy centers and that a law be promulgated to prohibit this practice.

Legal Status:
There is no law against FGM/FGC in Yemen. A ministerial decree effective January 9, 2001, however, prohibits the practice in both government and private health facilities.

We are unaware of any groups that would offer support or protection for a woman or girl against this practice.

Prepared by the Office of the Senior Coordinator for International Women's Issues, Office of the Under Secretary for Global Affairs, June 2001

Released on June 1, 2001

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