New study aims to understand the reasons why Female Genital Cutting persists (Update)

February 6, 2017, University of Bristol
Credit: University of Bristol

The harmful health consequences of Female Genital Cutting (FGC) are well-established and the elimination of this practice is a priority for policy makers across the world.

Examining the prevalence of this behaviour has been the subject of a new study by evolutionary anthropologists from the University of Bristol which, it is hoped, will provide a greater understanding of why FGC persists and inform eradication programmes.

The study used data from more than 61,000 in five countries in West Africa – Nigeria, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast.

In these countries most girls are cut before the age of five with the procedure being arranged by the girl's family, normally the mother.

In the five countries there are 47 main . These ethnic groups, or cultures, are rather like sub-populations, and individuals from the same ethnic group will normally share the same language and customs.

The prevalence of FGC varies hugely between these ethnic groups – in some groups almost all women have FGC and in others very few.

The studyshows that the probability that girls are cut depends on how common FGC is in their ethnic group.

Despite the mother's FGC status, researchers found girls in ethnic groups where FGC is uncommon have a low probability of being cut, and girls from ethnic groups where FGC is common have a high probability of being cut.

The results also showed that in ethnic groups where FGC is common, at age 40, women with FGC have significantly more surviving offspring than women who have not been cut, and conversely in ethnic groups where FGC is uncommon it is women without FGC who have significantly more surviving offspring.

Dr Mhairi Gibson, Reader in Anthropology, said: "This study was conceived to address the evolutionary puzzle of why FGC persists despite the fact that it is detrimental to health. We are interested in whether evolutionary theory can help us to understand the prevalence of FGC behaviour, and that this approach may be useful in furthering our understanding of other harmful cultural practices."

Janet Howard, lead author of the paper, said: "Our results indicate that the difference in reproductive success between women with or without FGC is likely to be social rather than biological. Women with the "preferred" FGC status may have better marriage opportunities, or they may have access to social networks through which they get extra resources or support."

The researchers also came up with a number of findings, in a West African context, which it is hoped will inform future policy work.

Once the behaviour is abandoned, it appears unlikely that it will be taken up again which, researchers say, is encouraging from an eradication perspective. The study found that women who do not have FGC themselves are less influenced by the FGC norms in their ethnic group, and less likely to have their daughters cut even when living in an ethnic group where this is the normal behaviour.

FGC programmes could be targeted towards where FGC prevalence is over 50 percent. The results suggest that shifting the prevalence from it being a majority behaviour to a minority behaviour will result in a decline in prevalence.

Many eradication programmes (including those funded by the Department for International Development and UNICEF) are currently based on the 'social convention theory' - which requires a coordinated change among cutting communities to switch their behaviour en-masse. However, the evidence for the efficacy of this approach is being challenged. The study's results suggest that a piecemeal approach, by programmes which reduce the prevalence little by little may be equally effective in the decline in FGC prevalence.

The study 'Frequency-dependent female behaviour confers evolutionary fitness* benefits' is published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

* The term evolutionary fitness has a very specific meaning in evolutionary biology, and fitness here does not mean health or wellbeing. Evolutionary fitness is a measure of an individual's reproductive success, or their contribution to the gene pool in future generations. This can be difficult to measure so proxies are used; in this case researchers compared the number of surviving offspring, or living children, for women at the age of 40.

Explore further: What are the best treatments for female genital mutilation?

More information: Janet A. Howard et al. Frequency-dependent female genital cutting behaviour confers evolutionary fitness benefits, Nature Ecology & Evolution (2017). DOI: 10.1038/s41559-016-0049

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KeithBrianJohnson
5 / 5 (5) Feb 06, 2017
This confuses cause with effect. Women's having better marital opportunities and better access to social networks is an effect of their conformity to social norms, not a cause of those social norms' being what they are!
ab3a
not rated yet Feb 06, 2017
Another point: FGM can result in bleeding the girl to death. Those who survive may have access to better medical care. Ergo, the survival rate of their children would be higher due to better medical care.
JongDan
1 / 5 (1) Feb 06, 2017
Well, it must have become so widespread at some point, certainly not by chance. And considering the vast array of different seemingly unrelated cultures, one cannot really blame it on founder effect,
BubbaNicholson
1.3 / 5 (3) Feb 06, 2017
The sebaceous scent glands of the male member surrounding female tissues emit pheromone to influence male fertility (and other husbandly characteristics in health and behavior bearing on fertility), without this female signaled restraint, fertility increases even when it is detrimental to group survival overall. Here is evidence, clearly.
Examine the removed tissue and verify sebaceous glands (or consult a good histology text), obtain sebaceous secretion (issued with heat of passion, but heat from any source should bring out the sebum) and bioassay.
xponen
1 / 5 (1) Feb 07, 2017
Rather than trying hard to ban FGM, just regulate it.

There's terrible form of FGM & there's almost benign form of FGM, reform the FGM procedure for the benefit of community who still practicing it toward the bening form.

The problem with FGM is about the terrible form which involve sewing together the vagina opening, in which the brutality of first sex between husband & wife include using knife and lots of blood.

The opposite of that is the FGM that remove clitoris, which appear to be important in foreplay & mastrubating.
julianpenrod
1 / 5 (1) Feb 07, 2017
This can being up a more general point.
Remember that women make up about half of any population where this practice exists. The general consensus seems to be that the men there, in stereotypical fashioned disliked elsewhere, are all for the practice. Still, it should be possible for women to rise up, especially if the practice causes health problems as is claimed, and refuse it.
Which invokes another issue that no one wants to touch. Women's clothing in The West buttons right over left. The "explanation" is that women in Victorian days had servants who buttoned their clothes for them, and buttoning right over left made it easy for the servants to button it. Who buttoned the servants' clothes is not explained. But this practice, inconvenient for women, supposedly, has continued. Why? Why do women let themselves be inconvenienced? Is there another reason?
Sonhouse
not rated yet Feb 08, 2017
Why didn't they call it for what it really is, female genital mutilation.
JongDan
not rated yet Feb 10, 2017
Which invokes another issue that no one wants to touch. Women's clothing in The West buttons right over left. The "explanation" is that women in Victorian days had servants who buttoned their clothes for them, and buttoning right over left made it easy for the servants to button it. Who buttoned the servants' clothes is not explained. But this practice, inconvenient for women, supposedly, has continued. Why? Why do women let themselves be inconvenienced? Is there another reason?

But you forgot to mention that women's clothes in Victorian days also buttoned in the back, not in the front, so this can't be full explanation.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Feb 10, 2017
I don't understand. Cutting removes parts stimulated during intercourse, reducing a womans sexual desire and hence her temptation to stray. This is common knowledge. Hymen reconstruction is big business in these countries.

This is the same reason that women are kept in burka bags, to restrict their ability to flirt and tempt men other than their husband. They also cannot venture out without being accompanied by a male relative.

A womans biological prerogerative is to select the best possible donor for each and every child she wishes to bear. To ascertain quality she will compel multiple suitors to compete for repro rights.

Obviously this behavior is disruptive to tribal unity. Todays religions have survived by maximizing growth while maintaining unity and cohesion.

Women are therefore covered and forced to make babies until it kills them. And the labia and clitorus are removed to make sure they dont enjoy any of it.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Feb 10, 2017
"More than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia..." WHO

-wow.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Feb 12, 2017
Still, it should be possible for women to rise up, especially if the practice causes health problems as is claimed, and refuse it
If julian would do a little research he would find that it is often women who promote fgm, especially older women who fear competition from younger women (a major reason for the burka), or those who wish to provide more pleasure for their husbands through vaginoplasty, or simply because they believe their god wants to so.

The cultures that promote this practice are invariably religionist.

"Female Genital Mutilation occurs in non-Muslim societies in Africa and is practiced by Christians, Muslims and Animists alike. In Egypt, where perhaps 97 percent of girls suffer genital mutilation, both Christian Copts and Muslims are complicit. ... However, Muslim proponents of FGM also stress the religious necessity."

-Yet one more reason that religion should end, dont you agree?
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Feb 12, 2017
You cant separate superstition from religion. Religion IS superstition. And so youll always have idiot rituals like circumcision and flagellation and the eucharist. And headless chicken carcasses in central park.

"Matthew 19:12 For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it."

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