Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Abandoning FGM: Key Elements for change


Concrete field experience, together with insights from academic theory and lessons learned from the experience of foot binding in China suggest that six key elements can contribute to transforming the social convention of cutting girls and encourage the rapid and mass abandonment of the practice.


·         A non-coercive and non-judgmental approach whose primary focus is the fulfilment of human rights and the empowerment of girls and women is needed.


Communities tend to raise the issue of FGM when they increase their awareness and understanding of human rights and make progress toward the realisation of those they consider to be of immediate concern, such as health and education.


Despite taboos regarding the discussion of FGM, the issue emerges because group members are aware that the practice causes harm. Community discussion and debate contribute to a new understanding that girls would be better off if everyone abandoned the practice.


·         Awareness on the part of a community of the harm caused by the practice is needed. Through non-judgmental, non-directive public discussion and reflection, the costs of FGM tend to become more evident as women – and men – share their experiences and those of their daughters.


The decision to abandon the practice as a collective choice of a group that intra-marries or is closely connected in other ways. FGM is a community practice and, consequently, is most effectively given up by the community acting together rather than by individuals acting on their own. Successful

transformation of the social convention ultimately rests with the ability of members of the group to organize and take collective action.


·         An explicit, public affirmation on the part of communities of their collective commitment to abandon FGM. It is necessary, but not sufficient, that most members of a community favour abandonment.

A successful shift requires that they manifest – as a community – the will to abandon. This may take various forms, including a joint public declaration in a large public gathering or an authoritative written statement of the collective commitment to abandon.


·         A process of organized diffusion to ensure that the decision to abandon FGM spreads rapidly from one community to another and is sustained is important.


Communities must engage neighbouring towns so that the decision to abandon FGM can be spread and sustained. It is particularly important to engage those communities that exercise a strong influence. When the decision to abandon becomes sufficiently diffused, the social dynamics that originally perpetuated the practice can serve to accelerate and sustain its abandonment.

Where previously there was social pressure to perform FGM, there will be social pressure to abandon the practice. When the process of abandonment reaches this point, the social convention of not cutting becomes self-enforcing and abandonment continues swiftly and spontaneously.


·         An environment that enables and supports change.

Success in promoting the abandonment of FGM also depends on the commitment of government, at all levels, to introduce appropriate social measures and legislation, complemented by effective advocacy and awareness efforts. Civil society forms an integral part of this enabling environment. In particular, the media have a key role in facilitating the diffusion process.


Together we can end female genital mutilation for good.


  1. Abigal, I thought you were very impressive on the news and enjoy your blog. I am a doctor working in Oxford with women affected by FGM. It would be good to talk about what can be done locally to reach out to more women and to address what can be done to safeguard our children. Let me know if you are interested in talking further. I am not sure re. etiquette of blogspots- if you are happy, I can forward my work email to this site for in case any woman reading your blog wishes to know more about what I do, or have been affected by FGM/ FGC and would like advice.

    1. Glad to have someone like you in the Oxfordshire area. I am interested in talking further and if you could leave your work email address as that would be great. You are right we need to reach out to more people, community leaders etc to safeguard our children. Please do get in touch so we can work together.

    2. My work email is Brenda.kelly@ouh.nhs.uk
      Look forward to talking to you.

  2. Historically, and even today, in most places where female circumcision is practiced, it is primarily done to women by other women...You aren't going to change this horrific, barbaric practice until you get all those aunts, mothers, and grandmothers in places like Egypt to agree that it needs to be changed. And I doubt you're going to get much mileage by blaming their brothers, fathers, and husbands for a tradition that goes back to long before any of them was born.