Though female genital cutting (FGC) can lead to serious health problems throughout life, an estimated 125 million girls and women are cut. International agencies spend considerable resources each year on programs to reduce cutting, and countries where FGC is practised can devote a considerable share of their health-care budget to coping with the health consequences of cutting.
Our project aims to understand the decision-making mechanisms that support FGC within and across communities, with the ultimate aim of developing interventions to change associated attitudes and promote the abandonment of the practice. In particular, the project examines how beliefs, private values, and coordination incentives interact to support cutting or abandonment. In addition, the project develops and evaluates interventions designed to improve attitudes towards uncut girls by exploiting existing variation in attitudes and practices within the target population.
The research takes place in Sudan, a country with a high prevalence of FGC, and with Sudanese immigrants in Europe. We have developed a variety of novel methods to reliably measure attitudes, social norms, and behaviours related to cutting, and altogether the research has produced a wealth of observational and experimental data with more than 10,000 participants in roughly 140 communities the state of Gezira, Sudan.
Thus far, our research has shown that, in contrast to the prevailing wisdom among scientists and practitioners, FGC involves a tremendous amount of local heterogeneity in attitudes and practices. In essence, families that cut and families that do not cut live door-to-door. We have also produced four feature-length movies that dramatise an extended family debating whether to continue cutting or abandon the practice. We used these movies in two different randomised controlled experiments, and we found that these entertaining movies produced highly significant improvements in attitudes towards uncut girls.
Ongoing research focuses on long-term behavioural change following entertainment-based interventions, as well as the extent to which inaccurate beliefs may or may not help to sustain cutting. Most recently, we have used some of our methods developed in Sudan to compare Sudanese immigrants in Switzerland to their counterparts in Sudan.
Funded by: National Committee of UNICEF, Switzerland
Timeframe: 2013 and ongoing
Principal investigators: Sonja Vogt (Nuffield College), Charles Efferson (Royal Holloway, University of London), Ernst Fehr (University of Zurich)
- Vogt, S., Zaid, N.A.M., Ahmed, H.E.F., Fehr, E., and Efferson, C. (2016). Changing cultural attitudes on female genital cutting. Nature, 12 October 2016.
- Efferson, C., Vogt, S., Elhadi, A., Ahmed, H.E.F., and Fehr, E. (2015). Female genital cutting is not a social coordination norm. Science, 349: 1446-1447.
- Vogt, S., Efferson, C., and Fehr, E. (2017). The risk of female genital cutting in Europe: Comparing immigrant attitudes toward uncut girls with attitudes in a practicing country. Social Science & Medicine - Population Health. 3: 283-293.
Please find links to extensive media coverage of the project here: https://sonjavogt.wordpress.com/media/