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Female Genital Mutilation: Money – Inadequate Funding, Vested Interests, MDG and GDP

March 9, 2018

Friday 8 March 2018 saw another EndFGM seminar led by Dr Tobe Levin and hosted by Dr Maria Jaschok of the International Gender Studies Centre, Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford. The event was attended by academics (two from the USA), doctors, lawyers and activists. I contributed by leading an interactive session on the many economic aspects – still so often overlooked – of female genital mutilation and its eradication. My briefing paper (drawing on the event concept note Tobe Levin had prepared) follows below, with a visual record of our discussions:

Female Genital Mutilation: Myth, Memoir, Media, Money – and Sex
Friday 9 March 2018, Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University

Session 4: Money: Inadequate Funding, Vested Interests, MDG and GDP
14.30 – 15.45 (Chair, Hilary Burrage)

In this session we ask a number of practical questions, drawing on the concept note provided by Tobe Levin**:

1. What are the direct costs – financial as well as human – of FGM? Who pays the most? And who benefits the most? Are these costs (and ‘benefits’) the same in all practising communities?

2. What wider costs, beyond the personal, are incurred by FGM-practising communities? Are there any genuine ‘benefits’ and, if so, how otherwise if necessary (?) might they be secured?

3. Are the questions of cutters’ income and elevated status the core matter here, or are there other underlying issues which we must also acknowledge? (Land ownership, education and similar matters? Can we list some? What are the most pressing factors to be addressed?)

4. How can economic / resource arguments be brought effectively to bear in communities which are not predicated on such analyses? (This is not ‘just’ a question applicable to traditional communities….)

5. Who makes decisions about FGM etc at the level of policy and legislation? Is this the same in all communities? How can evidence that FGM is harmful – and wrong – be leveraged in the context of competing political interests?

6. What are the resource demands of eradication? And what else regarding resources must be considered, to translate the imperative of #EndFGM into policy and practice?

In summary, we continue to develop the themes around economics which have exercised some of us for quite a while now.  The advice ‘follow the money’ remains as central as ever, as we seek to find ways to make FGM history.

Read more about FGM and Economics

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** Tobe Levin’s concept note (slightly adapted by me specifically for this session):

• When in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1998, Joy Keshi Walker conceived of an art exhibition against FGM, she called it ‘The Suffering, The Sorrow, the Setback’ whereby ‘setback’ referred to the economics of wounding a substantial portion of the population, thereby reducing their productivity, limiting their contribution to GDP and elevating healthcare costs, not to mention the price in pain and anguish of the injured. Analysis at this macrolevel is rare, though business consultants can calculate the cost in a given economy, knowledge that is urgently needed.

• Similarly, analyses of vested interests are scarce. One exception is Diana Kuring’s detailed study of Eritrea’s nine ethnic groups including the expense of celebrations and fees charged by ‘FGM enthusiasts’, excisers and traditional birth attendants (TBAs) whose personal and economic interest is central. ‘Society grants them respect and approves their activity’, the reason they believe that what they do ‘”is good for the girls”.’ Even after sensitivity training, few acknowledge health risks, an attitude ensuring their own social status and income.
Prestige and living standard are similarly twinned in other practicing groups. Let’s cross the Sahara. In Sierra Leone Kadidiatu Suma, who had been taunted for being a ‘burka’ – uncut – is forced by her grandmother when in her mid-teens to suffer the cut. So great is her anguish that she makes fighting the “rite” her life’s work, but her approach is soft. As an initiate herself, she can hold candid talks with Sowies – ‘many see it as a business’ — who are defiant in their conviction, like the TBAs and cutters in the Horn of Africa, that their elevated status derives from a beneficial social service only incidentally supplying ‘a good income’. Only when Kadidiatu proposes an alternative source of cash does the Sowie whom she has drawn aside grow thoughtfully silent. “Would you then give up this work?’ Kadi asks. Although hesitant, she says, ‘yes’.

• In addition to cutters’ earnings, ‘the idea that FGM has [broader] economic implications is not new’, as Hilary Burrage pointed out at our last workshop. Bride price is often tied to FGM, the cut girl considered of higher value so that her father receives more from a prospective groom. ‘Patriarchy as an institution supports these practices’ Burrage adds, with significant fiscal impact on communities, and she recommends increased attention to ‘the results of inflicting harm on women and girls whose health might otherwise be better’.
The challenges of eradicating FGM are fundamentally economic, but they are also very fundamentally concerned with human rights. The personal is political in a very meaningful way when we consider FGM and other harmful traditional (or indeed current) practices (HTPs).

MDG: Millennium Development Goals
GDP: Gross Domestic Product

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Your Comments on this topic are welcome. 
Please post them in the box which follows these announcements.

Books by Hilary Burrage on female genital mutilation

18.04.12 FGM books together IMG_3336 (3).JPG

Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation: A UK Perspective (Hilary Burrage, Ashgate / Routledge 2015).
Full contents and reviews   HERE.
FEMALE MUTILATION: The truth behind the horrifying global practice of female genital mutilation  (Hilary Burrage, New Holland Publishers 2016).
Full contents and reviews   HERE.


There is a free FGM hotline for anyone in the UK: 0800 028 3550, or

Details of NHS Specialist Services for FGM here.

More info and posts on FGM here.

Activists, service providers and researchers may like to join the LinkedIn group Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): Information, reports and research, which has several hundred members from around the world.

The (free) #NoFGM Daily News carries reports of all items shared on Twitter that day about FGM – brings many organisations and developments into focus.

Also available to follow at no cost or obligation is the #NoFGM_USA Daily News.

Twitter accounts:          @NoFGM_UK  @NoFGMBookUK @FemaleMutlnBook  @FGMStatement  @NoFGM_USA @NoFGM_Kenya  @NoFGM_France  @GuardianEndFGM [tag for all: #NoFGM] and @StopMGM.

Facebook page: #NoFGM – a crime against humanity

Email contact: via Hilary


[NB The Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children, which has a primary focus on FGM, is clear that in formal discourse any term other than ‘mutilation’ concedes damagingly to the cultural relativists – though the terms employed may of necessity vary in informal discussion with those who by tradition use alternative vocabulary. See the Feminist Statement on the Naming and Abolition of Female Genital Mutilation,  The Bamako Declaration: Female Genital Mutilation Terminology and the debate about Anthr/Apologists on this website.]


This article concerns approaches to the eradication specifically of FGM.  I am also categorically opposed to MGM, but that is not the focus of this particular piece.

Anyone wishing to offer additional comment on more general considerations around infant and juvenile genital mutilation is asked please to do so via these relevant dedicated threads.

Discussion of the general issues re M/FGM will not be published unless they are posted on these dedicated pages. Thanks.



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