November 30, 2018
Activities /
Posted by NCID

More than 200 million women, mainly in Africa, suffer female genital cutting (FGC), a practice rooted in some societies as a moral duty for women, and somehow as an assumed cultural habit. Apart from the international initiatives that aim to stop it, not everyone understands why does FGC persist. And answering to that is a must to face it.

That is why Dr. Lucia Corno, Assistant Professor of economics at the Catholic University of Milan, and her colleagues Eliana La Ferrara (Bocconi University), Nathan Nunn (Harvard University), and Alessandra Voena (University of Chicago) started a fieldwork still in progress to find out the historical roots of this phenomenon in order to inform future policy design. The paper The Historical Roots of Female Genital Cutting was presented by professor Corno in Pamplona on Monday, November 26, in a Weekly Seminar organized by the Navarra Center for International Development (NCID).

According to their study, in some countries, FGC is almost universal, like in Somalia (98%), Guinea (96%), Djibouti (91%), and Sierra Leone (91%). And it is a practice with dramatic consequences for women in more than one sense: it affects, of course, their health, but also their educational achievements, fertility, and psychological status.  

The historical roots of FGC, at least from what they have found, aim beyond religion or ethnicity itself: its origins seem to be in slavery, which if it wasn’t the cause, was at least a catalyst. In fact, there is a match, especially in West and East Africa, between the location of the communities where FGC is more common and the old slave routes.

The study, that focuses on the Red Sea slave route, states that FGC originated “as a reaction to different roles slaves women had across the slave route”. FGC was considered something both mandatory and functional: it ensured chastity and loyalty to the owner, prevent pregnancies, and was a precaution method against rape. But now, more than something functional is something just culturally imposed, because there are women who are made to understand that is a normal practice to be accepted in society, so it’s more difficult to eradicate.

Therefore, some of the next steps for professor Corno and her colleagues include coding the local term for FGC used among the countries in the sample where they did the surveys and check the origin and provide validation to the results through an IV approach.