Belief Systems Enforcing Female Genital Mutilation in Europe

Yussif Alhassan, Hazel Barrett, Katherine E. Brown, Kayleigh Kwah

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
80 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose: Despite numerous studies on FGM, little is known about belief systems that support FGM in the EU. This paper explores the dynamic nature of belief systems and enforcement mechanisms that perpetuate FGM among three African migrant communities in the EU. Design/methodology/approach: This paper is based on data collected through community-based participatory action research in three communities: Eritrean and Ethiopian community in Palermo, Italy; Guinea Bissauan community in Lisbon, Portugal; and Senegalese and Gambian community in Banyoles, Spain. A total of 24 FGDs and 70 in-depth narrative interviews were conducted for the research. Key findings: The research reveals that the practice of FGM is driven by belief systems structured around religion, sexuality, decency, marriage and socialisation. These beliefs are enforced through social sanctions and regular communications with home countries. Key actors identified to perpetuate FGM in the study communities are elder men and women in community, parents, and maternal grandmothers. The research also finds that beliefs that support FGM practice among migrants in the diaspora are not substantially different from those in their home countries. Limitations of the research: Members of the migrant communities are ethnically diverse, therefore it is possible that the views of different ethnicities may have been collapsed during the analysis. Also due to close connection and linkages between migrants in the study communities and their home countries it was difficult to delineate belief systems that were specific to the host countries. Originality/value: This paper provides evidence to show that the practice of FGM among migrants in the EU is driven by both social norms and individual (parent) behaviour and therefore there is a need for interventionists to focus on individual behaviour change and social norm transformation techniques. It also suggests that beliefs around FGM have remained socially significant among migrants despite their exposure to European culture because such beliefs are used to promote the moral standards of girls, marriageability of women, respectability of families, and the assertion of cultural and religious identity in the migrants’ new environment. The paper further underscores the role of migrants’ European context in strengthening belief systems that perpetuate FGM in the EU.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-40
JournalEthnicity and Inequalities in Health and Social Care
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2016


  • Female genital mutilation
  • African migrants
  • social norm
  • belief system
  • enforcement mechanism
  • Europe

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