Female genital mutilation and other harmful practices
Changing behaviour with regard to female genital mutilation
Context and change in attitudes to FGM
This article is based on findings from the three-year study of communities that practise FGM in Gambia and Senegal . The research methods are field-worker observations coupled with in-depth interviews. The six field-workers (three female and three male) are from families that practise FGM.
The researchers state that decisions about FGM (such as whether, when and how to perform it) result from “a constant process of negotiation” that is influence by a range of social relationships, contexts and experiences that the researchers term “contingencies”. By using quotations from interviews and by citing from case histories, the article illustrates some of these contingencies and shows how attitudes may change and how expressed views may not reflect reality in practice.
The so-called contingencies that are described in the article (and that apply in different measures to different people) include fear of prosecution, exposure to an intervention programme, experience of the death of others due to FGM, health messages (including the common belief that FGM may spread HIV/AIDS, although there is little evidence for this assumption), migration, marriage across ethnic lines, the opinions of influential people.
The researchers stress that “the manner in which behaviour change occurs and the factors that alter or deter readiness for change must be examined within the social contexts in which individuals are operating”. They argue that it will be essential to integrate the concept of contingency into theoretical models of behaviour change in order to better understand the dynamics of decision-making with respect to FGM.
1. Hernlund Y, Shell-Duncan B. Contingency, context and change : negotiating female genital cutting in the Gambia and Senegal. Africa Today 2007; 53(4):43-57.
- Full text and abstract of "Contingency, context and change: negotiating female genital cutting in the Gambia and Senegal"
- See also Policy brief on Dynamics of decision-making and change in the practice of FGM in the Gambia and Senegal