Research Press Release

Behaviour: Changing cultural attitudes towards female genital cutting

Nature

October 13, 2016

Movies that dramatize diverse opinions on female genital cutting (FGC) can change attitudes towards the practice within certain cultures, reports a Nature paper published online this week. The study suggests that using entertainment to explore locally divergent views may represent a means of gently prompting change from within a culture without accentuating intercultural divisions.

Governments and international agencies have long promoted the abandonment of FGC, but the practice remains widespread, with associated health risks for millions of girls and women. Such efforts often assume that cutting is locally pervasive, implying that values from outside the culture need to be introduced. These interventions can thus be viewed by members of the target society as unwelcome intrusions and can sometimes lead to backlash.

Sonja Vogt, Ernst Fehr, Charles Efferson and colleagues produced four versions of a telenovela-style movie about an extended family living in rural Sudan; the four movies share the same primary plot, which is unrelated to cutting. The control movie includes only the main plot, whereas the other three versions also portray disparate views on cutting that stem from individual values (such as whether FGC is healthier), marriageability (whether the practice enhances a girl’s marriage prospects), or both, and end with the family’s decision to abandon cutting.

The authors conducted two experiments in Sudan: in the first, 189 people from five communities were randomly assigned one movie to watch; in the second, 88 groups of communities were randomized, with a total of 7,729 participants in 122 communities. After watching their assigned film, participants completed an implicit association test that was designed to unobtrusively measure attitudes about cut versus uncut girls. The authors show that the movies significantly improved attitudes towards girls who remain uncut; one movie in particular - that which explored local heterogeneity in both values and marriageability - had a relatively persistent effect. However, because attitudinal shifts were measured only once, either immediately after viewing or approximately one week later, further studies are needed to evaluate how long-lasting these changes might be.

“Communities often want to abandon FGC,” concludes Nicholas Christakis in an accompanying News & Views article. “This important work identifies an effective, indigenous tool to help them do so.”

DOI:10.1038/nature20100 | Original article

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