CAn PEOPlE CHAngE THEiR WAyS? Yes. But don’t
bother preaching against a culture’s conventions,
or outlawing them. Neither will work, says Gerry
Mackie, associate professor of political science in the
UC San Diego Division of Social Sciences. When it
comes to stopping a practice like female genital
cutting (FGC), a community must be empowered to
FGC ranges from symbolic pricking to infibulation—
full excision of the clitoris and labia and being sewn
shut. Concentrated in 29 countries across Africa and
the Middle East, the traumatic and dangerous
practice is estimated to have affected 130 million
girls and women, with more than 3 million girls
under the age of 15 currently at risk.
Many efforts to end FGC can backfire. Informing
people that cutting is unsafe can result in
medicalization—replacing traditional cutters with
doctors and nurses. And criminalizing FGC can drive
it underground, making it even more dangerous and
entrenching traditionalists in their positions.
Mackie’s approach starts with understanding how
communities that have practiced FGC for centuries
are not intending to hurt or disfigure, but rather to
ensure marriageability in their society.
“They do it because they love their daughters,”
Mackie explains. “And they will stop because
they love them.”
Over the two decades Mackie has studied female
genital cutting, he’s seen striking similarities with
the abandoned practice of foot-binding in China.
The pivotal innovation in that case: public pledges
by intermarrying groups.
In 1998 Mackie began collaborating with the
nonprofit Tostan to put this theory into practice,
encouraging more than 7,000 communities across
eight African countries to publicly declare
abandonment of FGC.
The pledges are a high point, Mackie cautions.
Harmful practices end as “enough people see that
enough people are changing.”
Mackie and UC San Diego graduate assistants are
currently writing a theory of change for ending FGC,
outlining the desired outcome and measures of
success. While the details will depend on what’s
discovered over the next years, Mackie’s premise will
certainly remain: “Treat people as rational, good
people, who want what’s best for their girls.”
An empowered approach to end female genital cutting.
IT TAKES A
VILLAGE (OR 10)
of political science, UC
San Diego Division of
BY INGA KIDERRA
The traumatic and
is estimated to have
affected 130 million
girls and women.