Journal Article

Persistence of female genital mutilation/cutting in two Kenyan communities: What can we learn from change that falls short of abandonment?

Literature on dynamics of change in female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) portray two common but conflicting views. On one side, FGM/C is seen as static and deeply entrenched, with parents lacking agency to interpret culture, evaluate options and adopt changes. An alternative perspective focuses on the fluidity of social norms, influencing whether and how FGM/C is practised. This study asks: in counties where FGM/C persists at high rates, Kisii and Narok, are there changes in the way that FGM/C is performed? and what drives these changes? In-depth interviews and focus group discussions were conducted to illuminate these questions. Data showed five ways that FGM/C practices have changed: (1) reduction in severity of cutting, (2) medicalised cutting, (3) performing FGM/C at younger ages, (4) cutting in secret, and (5) occasionally, abandonment of FGM/C. Messaging on health risks of FGM/C and fear of criminal punishment have motivated less severe cutting and medicalisation. Legislation has also driven the practice underground. Programmes aimed at ending FGM/C should create a critical dialogue on changes in norms with the intent of reducing stigmatisation of uncut girls and their families, and the ways cutting practices are shifting, thereby building on change that is already underway.