The medicalisation of female genital cutting : harm reduction or social norm?

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Nina Van Eekert, Veerle Buffel, Sara De Bruyn, Sarah Van De Velde


Today, female genital cutting is increasingly practised by trained healthcare providers. While opposition to medicalised female genital cutting (FGC) is strong, little is known about the underlying motivation for this medicalisation trend in practising communities. We formulated three hypotheses based on medicalisation theories. The medicalisation of FGC: (i) is stratified and functions as a status symbol, (ii) functions as a harm-reduction strategy to conform to social norms while reducing health risks and (iii) functions as a social norm itself. Conducting multilevel multinomial regressions using the 2005, 2008 and 2014 waves of the Egyptian Demographic Health Survey, we examined the relationship between the mother's social position, the normative context in which she lives and her decision to medicalise her daughter's cut, compared to the choice of a traditional or no cut. We found that an individual woman's social position, as well as the FGC prevalence and percentage of medicalisation at the governorate level, was associated with a mother's choice to medicalise her daughter's cut. Further research on factors involved in decision-making on the medicalisation of FGC is recommended, as an in-depth understanding of why the decision is made to medicalise the FGC procedure is relevant to both the scientific field and the broader policy debate.

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