REPLACE 2 – Researching Female Genital Mutilation Intervention Programmes Linked to African Communities in the EU

Practice Aim

To empower and motivate FGM affected communities through community leaders, influential people and peer group champions to challenge the social norm supporting FGM.

Target Groups

Women and migrant communities that are still practicing Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Europe.

Lead organisation: Coventry University



The Replace_2 study aimed at identifying the migrant communities that are still practicing Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Europe, and at designing interventions towards the end of the practice.
The peculiarity of the Replace_2 project stands in being a Community-based Participatory Action Research (CPAR), an approach used to engage members of FGM affected communities to understand the social norm supporting FGM. It is an approach to collecting information that puts communities at the centre of the research process and enables them to contribute to the research, to be listened to and to be empowered by the process so that that they can take action to tackle FGM.
The approach is based on empowering and motivating FGM affected communities through community leaders, influential people and peer group champions to challenge the social norm supporting FGM.

Target: Vulnerable Group (VG) and type of host community

Women and migrant communities that are still practicing Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Europe

Application setting: context

With increasing globalisation and many people from FGM practising countries migrating to the EU and other regions, the practice of FGM is no longer restricted to the traditional practising countries. There are now substantial populations of girls and women living in the EU who have been subjected to FGM or who are at risk of FGM.
The most recent data show wide variation in FGM prevalence. The practice is almost universal in Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti and Egypt, with prevalence levels above 90%. In Cameroon and Uganda on the other hand, prevalence rates are approximately 1%.
The origins of FGM are unknown. However, some scholars have suggested that it has been practiced for over 2000 years. For many, it predates any of the major monotheistic religions such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism and thus it is not connected to any particular religion, culture, or socio-economic group. FGM takes place in many countries and communities with diverse religious belief systems, including Christian and Muslim. All communities where FGM is common are highly patriarchal, with FGM often defended as a rite of passage from girlhood into womanhood and preparation for marriage. It is used to curb female sexual desire and protect virginity. In some communities, it is justified for health and hygiene reasons, ‘purity’ being a word often used.
Often the girls themselves are not really aware of the violation they suffered when the procedure was done at a very early age (within their 4th birthday). Others have very vivid memories, visual flashbacks, as they have had to undergo the FGM at the age of 10/12, early puberty.


  • To implement the REPLACE behaviour change toolkit for ending Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) with practicing communities in the EU
  • To evaluate the experience of using the methodological approach and the behaviour change framework within the toolkit, amongst those involved
  • To engage communities in devising strategies for change
  • To develop feasible evaluation techniques and protocols with communities for their strategies for change
  • To build sustainability of the toolkit through knowledge transfer and capacity building with a range of partners and communities in the EU


The approach is based on three pillars:

  1. Behavioural Change: The REPLACE Approach incorporates both individualistic and community-focussed behaviour change theories. It recognises that some individuals are in less powerful/influential positions than others and even if they wanted to abandon FGM, they are not able to do so for fear of social exclusion and community rejection.
  2. Engaging and working with communities: It is very important to understand the beliefs and the social norm supporting the continuation of FGM and identifying the barriers to change. It empowers communities and ensures interventions are sustainable.
  3. Evaluation: It is a fundamental step in the research process because it helps to target, implement and assess the effect of activities and interventions and to ensure the level of impact.

It allows interventionists to learn what works and what does not, as well as what needs improving or changing. The Replace approach is concretely implemented through the Cyclic Framework for Social Transformation (CFST). This is a cyclic model for tackling FGM based on a combination of individualistic and social-based behaviour change theories. It recognises that in order to end FGM a number of cycles of behaviour change will need to take place within the community.


  • Pilot Toolkit for Replacing Approaches to Ending FGM in the EU: Implementing Behaviour Change with Practising Communities
  • The Toolkit provides detailed background to the issue of FGM and what is known about it in the EU context. The approach of behaviour change is explained in detail with reference to relevant theory and literature
  • The Community Handbook provides practical information straight to the issue of how to apply the approach in practice and aims to provide a step-by-step guide to be used in working in the field of FGM
  • Media workshop with Eritrean and Ethiopian communities on gender issues, six meetings on photography, video and storytelling
  • Final conference at the European Parliament


  • Targeted interventions to promote awareness of the community members about the reasons why this practice still exists in their own culture.
  • The choice of adopting mainly visual tools is because among participants there were different levels of schooling and of Italian language skills. Therefore, using images could allow all people to express themselves and telling about their backgrounds and views by simply choosing the pictures. Actually, all of them were enthusiastic to take part also in the storytelling phase.


Istanbul Convention which came into force in August 2014 clearly provides the Pan-European framework needed. Different public petitions have been addressed to raise awareness towards FGM. As an example, Plan Italia is leading a petition aiming at making that Government undertake advocacy actions so as to persuade other countries to adopt and implement relevant legislations, support health programmes for victims and disseminate good practices among communities. Even if the current legislation is against the practice and programmes have been developed in the past, more emphasis should be put in order to support the identification of risk situations and to prevent the practice from expanding to Italy and other countries, through tailored programmes for practising communities.

Difficulties or constrains for its implementation

  • Violence against women is hardly reported in Italy. Moreover, the nature of FGM is even more complicated by the fact that immigration is a relatively new issue, so members from FGM practising communities are often newcomers, therefore prevention and behaviour change policies and programmes are difficult to implement and assess. Indeed, there haven’t been any FGM prosecutions in Italy, nor recent programmes of support.
  • Many participants often deserted the meetings at the last moment; others (especially women) were often shy and reticent about the topic.
  • Initial resistance of participants to take part in the workshops because of the denial of facing delicate topics and speak about them openly.
  • The lack of knowledge of Italian or English language created a barrier for answering the questions and made some participant feeling uncomfortable.
  • it is important that information is given in a sustainable way without contributing to reinforce the pseudo-stereotypes, by reinforcing the idea that the practice is terrible but that there neither good nor bad people perpetuating it, but simply people who are conditioned by their culture without being aware of it.

CRITERIA actors or stakeholder are using to assess them as a “good practice”

  • Interventions have been tailored according to the results of previous community-based research in each city involved, by identifying behaviours that keep FGM as at risk of being practiced. Interventions include sessions on topics such as sexual and reproductive health, gender equality or leadership and communication skills development
  • Size of network – own ethnic community engagement – of active support to promote awareness. It is essential to create a network of active support to promote awareness within communities about the reasons why they practice FGM and about valid alternatives to stop the practice when they reach Europe.

Year and length (duration)

18/03/2013 – 18/11/2015