The newest numbers from a July report by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) have been released this week, revealing that less and less women over the generations are undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM). The gradual decline owes to the drop in approval by older generations of the ancient practice, especially for their daughters and granddaughters.

The report is a statistical overview of the dynamics and changes in 29 countries where female genital mutilation, also known as female genital cutting, is highly practiced. The report states that over the last decades, efforts to address and stop the practice have intensified, with the cumulative efforts of governments, international institutions, non-governmental organizations, religious and civil society groups, and local community members.

Efua Dorkenoo — the advocacy director for Equality Now, an organization that aims to end violence and discrimination against women and girls globally — is the recipient of the Order of the British Empire to help her stop the practice. She said that after heavy investments and intervention by the United Nations agencies, a significant drop in FGM incidence rates was expected, but as it turns out, community mobilization and education haven't proven as effective against the ancient tradition.

Female genital mutilation is the partial or complete removal of the external female genitalia, including the clitoris, and in certain extreme cases, the removal of the outer lips and sewing of the labia, according to the World Health Organization. It is often practiced for social, economic, and political reasons in order to show a girl's growth and womanhood. However, for women who undergo the painful procedure, childbirth is difficult and often dangerous to their child. But specific cultures see this drastic tradition as a way to limit sexual behavior and ultimately preserve a girl's virginity for marriage. In these cultures, the vagina is then widened for sexual intercourse after marriage and in order to create an opening for a viable birth canal.

In Egypt, 91 percent of females between the ages of 15 and 49 have endured the female genital mutilation practice of both partial and total removal, according to the recent UNICEF findings. In Somalia, 98 percent of women follow through the rite to womanhood passage, and an astonishing 125 million females in Africa and the Middle East have undergone the same painful fate.

Thirty-million girls are at risk of becoming part of this dangerous tradition in the next decade. This 3,000-year-old tradition enforces virginity, chastity, and fidelity in cultures that are male-dominated both in population and power. This initiation ritual has received a lot of attention as a women's rights and children's rights issue, calling on increased education, protection measures, and prosecution. Some blame it on the westernization of the world, but female genital mutilation is increasingly being considered a gender power control issue and violence against women.

Out of the 29 countries that were reviewed in the study, 24 had enacted decrees or legislation related to female genital mutilation that challenge traditional status quo. And so, the UNICEF report says that if these new opinions and defenses against FGM can be instilled into the masses where the practice is most heavily concentrated, the downward trend could descend more rapidly — and an end to FGM could be in the immediate future.

"When I started, we couldn't even discuss this issue. Now there's a growing voice, particularly among younger people, which is very, very satisfying," Dorkenoo told National Geographics.

Source: Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change. UNICEF. 2013.