Intergenerational aspects of FGM

Female genital mutilation is a social and gender norm, rooted in the tradition of the countries that practice it (AIDOS, 2021). FGM is linked to issues of femininity and identity in the societies where it is customary.

Social norms, such as FGM, are instilled by the family during childhood (primary socialization) and are developed through appropriation or rejection in adulthood (secondary socialization). Like other social norms, values, and traditions, the practice of FGM is transmitted from generation to generation. To advocate for the change of such a norm can be seen as challenging both the values and traditions of a community.

The prestige of these norms explains why even when the law condemns the practice of FGM, as is the case in many of the concerned countries, it continues to be perpetrated and may be favoured by a majority of the population. As we have seen in the previous discussion on Law & FGM, the practice is often so deeply rooted in social norms that people will rather break the law than abandon FGM. 

In their text Perpétuation intergénérationelle de la pratique de l’excision au Burkina Faso, Maiga and Baya (2008) explain that within a family, a mother who has been subjected to the practice will often perpetuate it for her daughters (even when she has suffered from it) because she is convinced that “thanks to the excision she has been able to enter married life, escape sterility, experience abundant fertility, and blossom socially, a mother cannot wish a better fate for her daughter than her own”. In many communities, it is also particularly difficult to discuss taboo issues such as reproductive and sexual health, including FGM, with the older generation (The Girl Generation, 2019).

As an anonymous author expresses on Sahyio’s blog (2019):

The irony is that [FGM is] a common practice passed down from generation to generation, but it is a well-kept secret. No one talks about it unless it’s your turn to undergo it.”

On the other hand, questioning traditions such as FGM can be particularly threatening to older generations, especially since the human mind naturally turns to preserve what has always been.

In some communities, the cultural ritual associated with the practice of FGM also reflects the hold of ancestors on modern societies (Maiga and Baya, 2008).

In a very concrete way, FGM is also traditionally performed by traditional cutters to whom the profession has been transmitted from generation to generation, from mother to daughter. Rejecting FGM thus implies, for some, rejecting the profession to which one was destined.

For these reasons, the process of changing the norm that is FGM requires engaging in a dialogue between generations. This strategy has been used by some NGOs working for an end to FGM. According to The Girl Generation (2019) intergenerational dialogues are “a participatory method for ending FGM with the aim of establishing a change in attitude towards FGM. These dialogues are based on strengthening dialogue between all generations, so that the entire community engages in a collective process of change.”

For example, the NGO SOWRAG implemented this strategy in Somalia, which allowed them to “facilitate a positive and facilitating environment where people could share their views on FGM openly. Both the younger and older generations were excited to talk about the issues around FGM and were happy to share their stories.” (The Girl Generation, 2019)

In June 2021, the Community of Practice is analyzing FGM from the perspective of intergenerational issues. In this discussion, we will address the different ways in which FGM is influenced by intergenerational relationships and how these relationships can be mobilized in the strategy to end the practice. 

  • What role do you think younger and older people play in perpetuating or challenging FGM in your community?
  • Have you ever used intergenerational dialogue in your work? What was the result?
  • How can intergenerational dialogue help lift the taboo on women’s sexuality?
  • How can these kinds of dialogues help break the chain of intergenerational trauma?
  • Vodiena, G., Coppieters, Y., Lapika, B., Kalambayi, P., Gomis, D. & Piette, D. (2012) Perception des adolescents et jeunes en matière de santé sexuelle et reproductive, République Démocratique du Congo. Santé Publique, 5(5), 403-415. Access: https://doi.org/10.3917/spub.125.0403 
  • Vogt, S., Mohmmed Zaid, N., El Fadil Ahmed, H. et al. (2016) Changing cultural attitudes towards female genital cutting. Nature 538, 506–509. Access: https://doi.org/10.1038/nature20

“The Community of Practice on Female Genital Mutilation” is part of the “Building Bridges between Africa and Europe to tackle FGM” project, supported by the “UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on the Elimination of FGM”.
The project is coordinated by AIDOS in partnership with GAMS Belgium.

The views expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UNFPA, UNICEF or any other agency or organization.

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