Local conformity to international norms: The case of female genital cutting

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Using the case of female genital cutting (FGC), the article addresses the question of when local attitudes and practices conform to international norms. One theoretical perspective links attitudes in developing countries to control over the physical environment, arguing that greater control over nature is associated with the rejection of traditional authority and the acceptance of modern science. A competing perspective emphasizes the importance of western scripts as a source of individual identity. The authors use hierarchical models to analyze Demographic and Health Survey data on attitudes toward, and the practice of, female genital cutting in five African countries with anti-FGC policies. They find that institutions that carry 'modern' scripts - education, college, mass media and female employment - all reduce the probability that women will favor the continuation of FGC or 'circumcision' of their daughters. The effects of factors associated with control over nature were more mixed. The study also finds that Christian women are more likely to express negative attitudes toward FGC.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5-33
Number of pages29
JournalInternational Sociology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2002


  • Africa
  • Female genital cutting
  • International norms
  • Modernization


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