Beliefs, values and attitudes are formed and developed under a multitude of influences – our parents, families, society, culture, traditions, religion, peer groups, the media (TV, music, videos, magazines, advertisements), school, climate, environment, technology, politics, the economy, personal experiences, friends, and personal needs. They are also influenced by our age and gender.
The development of a value system
A value system is a hierarchical set of beliefs and principles which influence an individual or group’s outlook on life (attitude) and guide their behaviour. A value system is not rigid, but will be subject to change over time, and in the light of new insights, information and experiences.
Beliefs, values and attitudes and the practice of FGM
The practice of FGM is supported by traditional beliefs, values and attitudes. In some communities it is valued as a rite of passage into womanhood (For example in
Kenya and ). Sierra Leone
Others value it as a means of preserving a girl’s virginity until marriage, (For example in
Ethiopia and ). In
each community where FGM is practised, it is an important part of the
culturally defined gender identity, which explains why many mothers and
grandmothers defend the practice: they consider it a fundamental part of their
own womanhood and believe it is essential to their daughters’ acceptance into
their society. In most of these communities FGM is a pre-requisite to marriage,
and marriage is vital to a woman’s social and economic survival. Somalia
Behavioural scientists have demonstrated that in changing any behaviour, an individual goes through a series of steps .These are as follows:
2. Seeking information.
3. Processing the information and “personalizing” it –i.e. accepting its value for oneself.
4. Examining options.
5. Reaching a decision.
6. Trying out the behaviour.
7. Receiving positive feedback or “reinforcement”.
8. Sharing the experience with others.
According to this model, someone making the decision to reject FGM – whether that person is a mother, grandparent, father, husband, aunt, teacher, older sister, or a girl herself – will go through a process that starts with realising that rejection of FGM is an option. This will be followed by the person finding such a choice desirable; reaching the decision to reject FGM;
figuring out how to put this decision into practice; doing so and seeing what happens; and then receiving positive feedback from others that encourages the person to continue with their stand against FGM. The final stage is when the person feels confident enough in their decision to “go public” with it – i.e. share their reasoning and experience with others, thus encouraging them to follow the example. This is called the “multiplier effect”. At every step, and whoever the person is, there is the risk of failure, and individuals must struggle with the personal and wider repercussions of the choice they have made.
Community involvement means working with the people, rather than for them, to answer their needs and find solutions to their problems. It is a process whereby the community is encouraged to take responsibility for its problems and make its own decisions as to how to solve them, using its own resources and mechanisms.
Involving communities in the fight against FGM means working together towards changing their beliefs, values and attitudes regarding the practice. The objective is to allow people to reach their own conclusion that change is necessary and thus have a sense of ownership of this decision.
Strategies for involving individuals, families and communities in FGM prevention
The primary objective of community involvement strategies is to encourage ownership of any decision reached by an individual, a family, a group, or the entire community, to change behaviour regarding FGM.
Health professionals, Teachers and social workers are respected and listened to by individuals, families and communities and have a major role to play in promoting education against FGM. Some are already members of non governmental groups working to bring about change in their communities on the practice.
The first requirement is to learn about the practice and to be clear about the reasons given by people for practising it.
It should be remembered that FGM is not just a health issue but a gender and human right issue, therefore the solution to the problem lies not just in giving information on health consequences of FGM but to advising on the various dimensions of the problem. The ‘front-liners’ role is to contribute to the change process.
They can assist individuals, families and communities in the process of changing their behaviour and practice as regards FGM by:
● Integrating education and counselling against FGM into day to day nursing and midwifery practice
● Identifying influential leaders and other key individuals and groups within the community with whom they can collaborate and could be used as change agents
● visiting individual people or groups in the community, as appropriate
● establishing small focus groups for discussions. These discussions should be interactive and participatory, allowing the people themselves to do most of the talking
● assisting the people to think through the practice of FGM and its effects on health and on human rights
● identifying resources within the community that could be used in the prevention programme
● suggesting strategies for changing practice, e.g. a culturally acceptable alternative ceremony to mark the rite of passage (
and teaching women problem solving skills ( ) Tostan, Senegal
● supporting individuals and families to cope with the problems of FGM and with adjusting to change.
Remember to work with the community not against them. FGM is child abuse and violence against women and children. Let’s fight it. Any preconceived notions or insensitivity towards the practice may turn a community against outside help and therefore add to the difficulty of addressing the original issue.