Case #2050.0

Female Genital Cutting: Confronting the Power of Tradition in Senegal

Publication Date: October 15, 2015
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What does it take to change age-old social norms that are harmful or unjust? Can societies reflect upon their own social practices, recognize that it is in the best interests of their members to change them, and do so voluntarily? In the 1990s, Gerry Mackie, an American social scientist, and Tostan, an NGO based in Senegal, converged upon an approach that combined public deliberation, community empowerment and coordinated action to bring about the end of female genital cutting. This 8-page multimedia website uses video, text, maps and timelines to explore the process that has led thousands of communities in Senegal and other sub-Saharan countries to abandon this harmful practice. The site features video interviews with two Senegalese community leaders--a former cutter and an imam--as well as Mackie and the head of Tostan. Students learn about the history of FGC and of previous attempts to eliminate it, the theory behind this new approach and its practical implementation, and the challenges community members, and particularly women, have faced in tackling this issue.

Learning Objective:
This multimedia case provides a compelling vehicle for the instructor and the students to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of different mechanisms for changing deeply entrenched social norms, from public deliberation and community empowerment to a coordinated abandonment approach that seeks to quickly flip social equilibrium, using game-theoretic principles. Students can also explore ethical dilemmas in international development and aid, as well as the potential for cultural imperialism.

Other Details

Video Producer/Multimedia Developer:
Patricia Garcia-Rios
Faculty Lead:
Archon Fung
Pages (incl. exhibits):
Africa, Senegal