The origin of this practice is largely unknown, but it has existed in one form or another in almost all known civilisations throughout history and has not been confined to any one culture or religion. A mix of cultural, religious and social factors within families and communities are the main reasons for developing and continuing the practice. However, the majority of these beliefs are based in myths and misinformation.

A Rite of Passage into Womanhood

In certain FGM-practising communities a girl cannot be considered an adult unless she has undergone FGM. That is, the process is a distinctive element of belonging, of being a member of the group.

Perceived Hygiene

In some cultures there is a belief that female genitalia are unsightly and dirty. In some FGM-practising societies, unmutilated women are regarded as unclean and are not allowed to handle food and water.


FGM is often deemed necessary in order for a girl to be considered a complete woman, and the practice marks the divergence of the sexes in terms of their future roles in life and marriage. Most mothers practise FGM on their daughters to ensure their daughters have a future of respect and well-being.

Women’s Sexuality

In many communities, a girl’s/woman’s virginity is a prerequisite for marriage and central to concepts of family honour. FGM, in particular infibulation, is defended in this context asit is assumed to reduce sexual desire and so lessen a girl’s/woman’s temptation to have premarital sex, thereby preserving her virginity. Infibulation also provides “proof” of virginity.

Religious Misconceptions

FGM predates all contemporary world religions and is not an official religious requirement by any religion. However there are some misconceptions around this issue with many people believing it is a requirement for their faith. It is important to note that FGM is carried out across a number of religious groups.