Female genital mutilation: Conditions of decline

John C. Caldwell, I. O. Orubuloye, Pat Caldwell

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    26 Citations (Scopus)


    Female genital mutilation (or female circumcision) has been experienced by over 100 million women in sub-Saharan Africa and the Nile valley. Efforts to suppress the practice were made in the earlier decades of the present century, especially by missionaries in Kenya in the 1920s and early 1930s. Successful indigenous opposition to this activity led to a cultural relativist attitude toward FGM being dominant among governments and international bodies for the next half century. This situation has changed over the last 20 years as the women's movement has led an attack on the practice, so that by the mid-1990s all relevant major international bodies and governments without exception had committed themselves to its suppression. Nevertheless, efforts to counter FGM have often been weak and there has been little evidence of their success. This paper draws on a continuing research program among the Yoruba people of southwest Nigeria to show not only that FGM has begun to decline but that this occurence can be explained wholly by programs organized by the Ministry of Health and women's organizations. The focus of this paper is on the determinants of this change. These are shown to be: (1) a reduction in ceremonies associated with the practice, (2) its increasing medicalization, (3) indigenous secular campaigning based on the provision of information, and (4) a focus on individuals, especially women. There is little belief that the campaign is an assault on the culture, but rather a growing feeling, especially among those influenced by it, that it would be more appropriate once such a campaign has begun for it to be whole-hearted rather than lukewarm.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number262282
    Pages (from-to)233-254
    Number of pages22
    JournalPopulation Research and Policy Review
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2000


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