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PLoS One. 2019 Apr 22;14(4):e0214923. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0214923. eCollection 2019.

Persistent female genital mutilation despite its illegality: Narratives from women and men in northern Ghana.

Author information

Navrongo Health Research Centre, Navrongo, Ghana.
University of Calgary, Department of Medicine, Calgary, Canada.
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, United States America.



Globally, an estimated two million women have undergone Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), and approximately four percent of women who have been circumcised live in Ghana. In the Bawku Municipality and Pusiga District, sixty one percent of women have undergone the procedure. This study therefore aimed at identifying the factors that sustain the practice of FGM despite its illegality, in the Bawku Municipality and the Pusiga District.


This study used a descriptive qualitative design based on grounded theory. We used purposive sampling to identify and recruit community stakeholders, and then used the snowball sampling to identify, recruit, and interview circumcised women. We then used community stakeholders to identify two types of focus group participants: men and women of reproductive age and older men and women from the community. In-depth interviews and focus group discussions were conducted and qualitative analysis undertaken to develop a conceptual framework for understanding both the roots and the drivers of FGM.


Historical traditions and religious rites preserve FGM and ensure its continuity, and older women and peers are a source of support for the practice through the pressure they exert. The easy movement of women across borders (to where FGM is still practice) helps to perpetuate the practice, as does the belief that FGM will preserve virginity and reduce promiscuity. In addition, male dominance and lack of female autonomy ensures continuation of the practice.


Female Genital Mutilation continues to persist despite its illegality because of social pressure on women/girls to conform to social norms, peer acceptance, fear of criticism and religious reasons. Implementing interventions targeting border towns, religious leaders and their followers, older men and women and younger men and women will help eradicate the practice.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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