The study published by the British Medical Journal found that FGM rates among girls 14 and under in the region have decreased from 71% in 1995 to 8% in 2016 — a more dramatic drop than other studies have reported.
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However, members of the development community warn that the figures do not reflect the overall global FGM trends — and celebration cannot come at the expense of continued efforts to defend the rights of women and girls.
"If we think, 'OK, let's celebrate,' and we don't continue with the same efforts, that may have reverse consequences," Ngianga-Bakwin Kandala, the report author and professor of biostatistics at Northumbria University, told the Guardian.
The study's objective was to measure the effectiveness of FGM awareness campaigns directed at mothers. Therefore, researchers only accounted for girls 14 and under and left older girls and women out of the report.
And the study didn't account for variance in cultural practice from country to country.
"The age at which the girls are undergoing FGM changes from ethnic group to ethnic group. In Kenya, for example, the Somali community practice FGM on girls aged 3 to 7. But in the Maasai community, they practice FGM when the girl is a teenager, aged between 12 and 14," Nafissatou Diop, coordinator of United Nations Population Fund-UNICEF joint program, told the Guardian.
In Yemen and Iraq, FGM rates increased by more than 19% yearly between 1997 and 2015. However, the practice was less prevalent than in other countries, according to the study.
And even as rates fall, demographic trends in the countries where FGM is prevalent suggest that the number of women facing mutilation each year will continue to increase. Currently, 3 million girls and women are at risk of undergoing the harmful practice each year but by 2030, this number could reach 4.6 million according to the report published by United Nations Population Fund in February.
Internationally, FGM is recognized as a human rights violation yet, it continues to affect 200 million women and girls worldwide.
Putting an end to this practice is essential for advancing gender equality. While declining mutilation rates among girls under 14 in East Africa suggests awareness campaigns have had a positive impact, continued advocacy and education efforts are needed to defend the rights of women and girls.