Kin support for female genital cutting in rural Ethiopia

Mhairi Gibson (Bristol University)

September 21, 2018, 11:30–12:30


Room MF 323


Female genital cutting (FGC) has major implications for women’s health and well-being, and elimination is a key public health target. Barriers to achieving this include 1) obtaining accurate data on a sensitive and illegal topic, and 2) understanding how and why the practice is maintained and accepted in some populations. Here we combine evolutionary anthropological theories with indirect questioning methods designed to obtain anonymous responses, to explore how kinship influences support for FGC in rural Ethiopia. Surveying Arsi Oromo adults (n=1620) we measure directly-stated versus privately-held views on FGC. We find that both men and women are equally supportive of FGC, and attempt to conceal their support in front of interviewers. We also assess desirability of FGC for daughters versus daughters-in-law, which has not been previously tested. We find no overall variation in support for FGC for daughters over daughters-in-law, indicative that the costs and benefits of cutting of kin and non-kin are equivalent. However, we find that men are less inclined to conceal their support for cutting daughters, than for daughters-in-law. This may reflect particular pressures for fathers to openly signal sexual fidelity of their daughters to potential in-laws. We discuss the relevance of our findings for public health interventions and for the proposal that FGC is driven by sexual conflict.


Mhairi's research focuses on population and health issues in resource-limited communities. This work combines anthropological and demographic methodologies with theoretical frameworks of evolutionary biology.

Her webpage


Mhairi Gibson (Bristol University), Kin support for female genital cutting in rural Ethiopia, IAST General Seminar, Toulouse: IAST, September 21, 2018, 11:30–12:30, room MF 323.