Changing cultural attitudes towards female genital cutting

Volume 538 Number 7626 pp427-548 27 October 2016

Changing cultural attitudes towards female genital cutting
Sonja Vogt, Nadia Ahmed Mohmmed Zaid, Hilal El Fadil Ahmed, Ernst Fehr & Charles Efferson
Entertaining movies addressing both individual values and marriageability can provide a way to change cultural attitudes towards female genital cutting within certain cultures.
[Initial text]
As globalization brings people with incompatible attitudes into contact, cultural conflicts inevitably arise. Little is known about how to mitigate conflict and about how the conflicts that occur can shape the cultural evolution of the groups involved. Female genital cutting is a prominent example1, 2, 3. Governments and international agencies have promoted the abandonment of cutting for decades, but the practice remains widespread with associated health risks for millions of girls and women4, 5. In their efforts to end cutting, international agents have often adopted the view that cutting is locally pervasive and entrenched1. This implies the need to introduce values and expectations from outside the local culture. Members of the target society may view such interventions as unwelcome intrusions1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, and campaigns promoting abandonment have sometimes led to backlash1, 7, 8, 10, 11 as they struggle to reconcile cultural tolerance with the conviction that cutting violates universal human rights1, 9. Cutting, however, is not necessarily locally pervasive and entrenched1, 3, 12. We designed experiments on cultural change that exploited the existence of conflicting attitudes within cutting societies. We produced four entertaining movies that served as experimental treatments in two experiments in Sudan, and we developed an implicit association test to unobtrusively measure attitudes about cutting. The movies depart from the view that cutting is locally pervasive by dramatizing members of an extended family as they confront each other with divergent views about whether the family should continue cutting. The movies significantly improved attitudes towards girls who remain uncut, with one in particular having a relatively persistent effect. These results show that using entertainment to dramatize locally discordant views can provide a basis for applied cultural evolution without accentuating intercultural divisions…