Economics Is Why FGM Persists (Oxford Seminar On The Elephants In The Room)

Hilary, your contribution to the Workshop is ground zero for major research. Here I’d simply offer my translation from the German on the economics of FGM in Eritrea, book author by Diana Kuring, translation published in Feminist Europa. Review of Books. Special issue on FGM:
Table 6.
Economics of FGM in Eritrean ethnic groups
Ethnic group Finances associated with the practice
In this largest of Eritrean ethnic groups, it is customary that relatives, usually
grandmothers, aunts or women neighbors, perform the operation. Because they share a similar class status, they are generally not paid at all or are at times rewarded merely with enough cash to buy sugar and coffee. The ‘initiate’s’ mother prepares a meal for the cutters. The practice therefore represents a minimal financial outlay for the Tigrinya.
For the Tigre, FGM is a social event. In the northern Red Sea province, female relatives and neighbors drink coffee and eat wheat porridge. The exciseuse receives 20-80 Nakfa.
In the countryside villagers also visit the family, bringing congratulatory gifts. I don’t know whether the family offers these
visitors coffee and porridge in return. The cost of such festivities differs
between rural and urban venues. In the provincial capital Keren, the wealthy
slaughter a goat and invite the poor to eat. The exciser receives gifts, but the
available data gives no information about the value of these presents. In addition, the initiate’s mother receives gold [2] from her husband. [3]
Thus, the material outlay for the Tigre can be significant but the prestige accrues to the community rather than to the celebrants themselves.
The Hedareb pay only 20 Nakfa or six kilos of flour. [4] In comparison to other
Eritrean ethnic groups, economics plays no role here.
The NCA study discovered that the Islamic Bilen in Keren pay “three kilo [sic] of sorghum, 2 bars of soap, a kilo of sugar and coffee and transportation money.” [5]
For the Nara, a great deal of money goes into FGM. The entire village celebrates and must therefore be invited to eat and drink. Goats are slaughtered. [6] Guests give the initiate gold and jewelry. To lessen expenses, three or four girls from a single family are cut at the same time, or the surgery
is integrated into the wedding of a close relative. [7]
Thus, the economics of the event are highly significant for both the family and the village. The only missing data concerns the salary of the exciseuse: the NCA study gives no details.
The Kunama have the greatest economic investment in FGM. Festivities last anywhere from a number of days to an entire month, and a cow or ox will be slaughtered. The whole village, relatives and neighboring villagers are invited.
The girl’s maternal uncle gives her a goat or cow. According to the NCA
study, “her father also gives her a goat or a cow if she survives the operation.”

Hilary Burrage

17 November 2017: A workshop entitled Elephants in the Room: Hurdles – and Hope – for Ending Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) challenged us to consider some ‘elephants in the room’ in how we think about that particular form of gendered physical and psychological abuse.  The event, co-sponsored by the International Gender Studies Centre at Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford, and the UnCUT/VOICES Press, enabled those present to share thoughts on aspects of FGM which may be both blatantly obvious and difficult to discuss. My contribution, summarised below, was on the Economics of FGM.

The ‘four Es’ of Eradicating FGM are Engagement, Education, Enforcement and Economics.

But perhaps there is also a fifth ‘E’ – because in the context of this seminar Economics is the Elephant in the room….

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