How does the process of decision-making in female genital cutting shape the practice and the response? What motivates individuals to change, and how do broader social factors or contingencies influence the change process?
Mixed‐methods research on the practice of female genital cutting was conducted in Senegal and The Gambia from 2004-2007 in communities purposely selected for comparison across age, gender, ethnicity, urban/rural and intervention types. The findings depict a ‘peer convention’: that being circumcised serves as a signal to other circumcised women that a girl or woman is to be accepted in their network for social support. Under this lens female genital cutting facilitates the accumulation of social capital by younger women and of power and prestige by elder women. It is also argued that decision-making is often shown to be conducted by groups of individuals, and is relational, what one person chooses to do is dependent on the decisions of others. Despite being described as ‘women’s business’, fathers were often involved.
This research shows that more fathers were involved in conversations regarding girls who remained uncircumcised, and 50 per cent fewer Senegalese fathers, as compared to mothers, were supporters of female genital cutting. This suggests that men can play an important role in ending the practice, however it is significant that this takes place within a context of change among interconnected members of social networks which are intergenerational, and include both men and women. Where a wide group of people have to come to agreement about ending the practice – establishing a new social norm – this has been effective, for example ‘community declarations’ catalysed through the TOSTAN programme.