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Social Gains, Not Biological Logic, Drive Female Genital Mutilation: Study

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Female genital mutilation (FGM), a practice so deeply entrenched in many parts of the world yet condemned by the United Nations as violence against women, is so widely practiced due to social and cultural gains, a new study has reported.

Researchers from University of Bristol in England, studying data on over 60,000 women ages 15 to 49 in five Western African nations who had at least one daughter, found that ceremonial genital cutting follows an “evolutionary logic”: in cultures where the practice is prevalent, cut women have more babies who survive compared to uncut women.

Better Social Support, Chances Of Childbearing

"Our results indicate that this difference is due to social, not biological, differences," explained lead study author Janet Howard in a statement.

Howard said that women conforming to the cultural practice usually had better marriage opportunities — thus a better chance of conceiving — as well as better access to social networks.

“[B]eing cut gives women social status and more social support among women,” she added, hoping that the findings and a greater understanding of it may assist in eradication initiatives still met by resistance for the most part.

The research covered 47 ethnic groups in Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mali, Nigeria, and Senegal, where genital manipulation on the surveyed women was at nearly 60 percent on average. In three-fifths of the group, over half of women had been cut.

The findings were discussed in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Putting A Stop To Genital Cutting

Across 30 countries, at least 200 million females have undergone some form of genital cutting, according to the United Nations. And it’s not just in Africa, but also communities found in Asia, Arab nations, and Latin America. Half of cut women are located in Egypt, Ethiopia, and Indonesia.

Genital mutilation can involve cutting away a portion or all of the clitoris, as well as the labia minora or majora. It is often performed in unhygienic situations.

In a statement released Monday on the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, UNICEF director Anthony Lake along with UN Population Fund director Babatunde Osotimehin condemned the act as something that “irreparably damages girls’ bodies” and a source of extreme pain and lasting emotional trauma. The practice, they added, also ups the risk of fatal pregnancy and childbirth complications.

Uncut women are also socially banished.

"If a woman is not cut, she has no say in society. She cannot belong to the highest women's group in the country," said Adebisi Adebayo, A UN committee program adviser, citing how they will be made fun of, stigmatized, and made to appear that they are shaming their families.

UN organizations support 17 nations in efforts to eliminate the practice since 2008. They saw rapid declines in FGM practice in places such as Kenya and Liberia as well as some Ethiopia and Senegal regions, but pointed to issues of political instability, insecurity, and fragility in some countries affecting the success of implementation.

They also emphasized that FGM is not a woman’s issue alone, where men are expected to engage in discussions and speak up to make their communities understand the risks and dangers of FGM.

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