Female genital mutilation (or femalecircumcision) has been experienced by over 100 millionwomen in sub-Saharan Africa and the Nile valley.Efforts to suppress the practice were made in theearlier decades of the present century, especially bymissionaries in Kenya in the 1920s and early 1930s.Successful indigenous opposition to this activity ledto a cultural relativist attitude toward FGM beingdominant among governments and international bodiesfor the next half century. This situation has changedover the last 20 years as the women's movement has ledan attack on the practice, so that by the mid-1990sall relevant major international bodies andgovernments without exception had committed themselvesto its suppression. Nevertheless, efforts to counterFGM have often been weak and there has been littleevidence of their success. This paper draws on acontinuing research program among the Yoruba peopleof southwest Nigeria to show not only that FGM hasbegun to decline but that this occurrence can beexplained wholly by programs organized by theMinistry of Health and women's organizations. Thefocus of this paper is on the determinants of thischange. These are shown to be: (1) a reduction inceremonies associated with the practice, (2) itsincreasing medicalization, (3) indigenous secularcampaigning based on the provision of information, and(4) a focus on individuals, especially women. There islittle belief that the campaign is an assault on theculture, but rather a growing feeling, especiallyamong those influenced by it, that it would be moreappropriate once such a campaign has begun for it tobe whole-hearted rather than lukewarm.
Population Research and Policy Review – Springer Journals
Published: Oct 16, 2004
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