European Union criminalises FGM even more harshly and strengthens protection of women

We are very proud to have made our contribution to this

Strong women: Waris Dirie (left) and EU President Ursula von der Leyen.

In 2003 and 2004, the Desert Flower Foundation carried out, at its own expense, the first extensive research into female genital mutilation (FGM) in Europe. Within the framework of undercover investigations by our team of international journalists in all major European cities, it was possible to prove for the first time that over 500,000 women in Europe were subjected to this cruel practice and that thousands of young girls were at risk of becoming victims of FGM. The material collected comprised 4,000 pages.

Waris Dirie, founder of the Desert Flower Foundation, processed this research together with the Desert Flower Foundation team in her book Desert Children (2005). The successful book was published in 28 countries. At the same time, Waris Dirie published her Manifesto to End FGM and the Desert Flower Foundation launched a Europe-wide campaign against FGM with a petition to the European Union (EU).

250,000 people signed the petition. The collected signatures were sent to Brussels. The European Union put FGM on the agenda for the first time in Europe, and governments introduced laws against FGM in their countries. In 2006, the Desert Flower Foundation was invited by the Metropolitan Police and the BBC to be part of the first major FGM campaign in the UK.


The European Commission is proposing guidelines to require EU member states to make changes to laws to criminalise FGM and better support victims of FGM.

The four most important points in detail:

  • 1. Criminalisation of FGM
    The directive would oblige member states to set prison sentences of up to five years or seven years if FGM has been performed on a child or if the person who initiated FGM is a family member.
  • 2. Better support for FGM victims
    EU Member States are to be obliged to offer various important support services to victims of FGM.
  • 3. Compensation payments to FGM victims
    Member States must ensure that victims receive compensation for the harm they have suffered as part of the criminal proceedings.
  • 4. Prevention and education
    Member States need to raise awareness of the harmful practice of FGM, including among health professionals.

The proposals are now going through the EU legislative process.

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said: "I want Europe to be at the side of women with protection and support. I want a society where violence against women is prevented, condemned and prosecuted when it occurs. The time for justice and equality is now."

Good to know: With Covington & Burling LLP, the Desert Flower Foundation also has a strong partner and supporter at its side in Brussels. Our promise to you: We will not rest until FGM is banned from the world once and for all!

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