CDC Interview

1.)    How prevalent is FGM in the United States? Are there regions or communities in the U.S. with a higher frequency?


According to CDC’s most recent estimate on this topic (a 2016 paper published in Public Health Reports – attached here), as many as 513,000 women and girls in the United States could be at risk of having undergone female genital mutilation/cutting in the past or may be at risk of experiencing it in the future. (Note: this is not an estimate of how frequently female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) occurs in the US or an estimate of how many U.S.-resident women and girls have actually experienced FGM/C. National prevalence data do not exist on FGM/C among women and girls living in the US, nor are U.S. regional-level data available.)

This same research compiled data on FGC by country, which you can see in table 1 of the paper.


2.)    How have those statistics been acquired? Is the problem underreported due to the subject matter?


Our 2016 analysis models the number of women and girls potentially at risk by applying the number of women and girls residing in the US from countries where FCM/C is prevalent (based on US Census data) to estimates of the prevalence of FGM/C in those countries (according to Demographic and Health Survey data).

In the absence of directly surveying U.S.-resident women, this is the strongest method to develop some indicator of FGM/C risk for the US.

As mentioned previously, this is not an estimate of how frequently FGM/C occurs in the US or an estimate of how many U.S.-resident women and girls have experienced FGM/C. National data are not routinely collected on how frequently FGM/C occurs among women and girls living in the US. In addition, a limitation to that type of survey would be that it would require that women who have undergone FGM/C feel comfortable speaking up about their experience, which could be a challenge.


3.)    What has the CDC’s experience been with the issue? Are more cases being identified?


CDC’s role is to gather data and provide information about the practice, such as publishing the modeling paper cited. That paper shows a three-fold increase in the number of women and girls in the US who may have undergone genital cutting in the past or may experience it in the future compared with a previous 1997 paper. The estimated increase is largely due to the growing number of U.S.-resident women from countries where FGM/C is prevalent. We believe this increase reflects rapid growth in the number of people coming from countries practicing FGC – not an increase in FGC.

You could contact Stephen Hayes of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Women’s Health to learn more about community grants that are designed to strengthen FGM/C prevention at the community level.


4.)    How is the medical community preventing and/or stopping FGM?

This question is better suited for a medical provider, and a number of US physicians have significant expertise. One suggestion we could make is Dr. Nawal Nour, director of the Ambulatory Obstetrics Practice at the Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, founder of the African Women’s Health Center, and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School. Another contact is Dr. Crista Johnson-Agbakwu, Assistant Research Professor and Director of the Office of Refugee Health at Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center at the University of Arizona, and an Obstetrician/Gynecologist at Maricopa Integrated Health System. She is the Founding Director of the Refugee Women’s Health Clinic.