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Belief systems enforcing female genital mutilation in Europe

Yussif Nagumse Alhassan (Centre for communities and social Justice, Coventry University, Coventry, UK)
Hazel Barrett (Centre for Communities and Social Justice, Coventry University, Coventry, UK)
Katherine E Brown (Centre for Technology Enabled Health Research, Faculty of Health & Life Sciences, Coventry University, Coventry, UK)
Kayleigh Kwah (Centre for Technology Enabled Health Research, Faculty of Health & Life Sciences, Coventry University, Coventry, UK)

International Journal of Human Rights in Healthcare

ISSN: 2056-4902

Article publication date: 14 March 2016




Despite numerous studies on FGM, little is known about belief systems that support FGM in the EU. The purpose of this paper is to explore the dynamic nature of belief systems and enforcement mechanisms that perpetuate FGM among three African migrant communities in the EU.


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.


The research finds that belief systems supporting the practice of FGM among African migrants in the European diaspora are similar to those in their home countries. Beliefs structured around religion, sexuality, decency, marriage and socialisation are particularly significant in perpetuating FGM in the study migrant communities. These are enforced through sanctions and social expectations from the migrants’ home and host communities.

Research limitations/implications

Members of the migrant communities that were the focus of this research are ethnically diverse; therefore it is possible that differences in the practice of and views on FGM by various ethnicities may have been masked. Also, due to close linkages between the migrants and their home countries it was hard to delineate beliefs that are specific to the host countries. In addition, it was difficult to assess the level of education of the migrants and how this may have impacted on their beliefs due to their contrasting and inconsistent educational backgrounds.


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 interventions 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 as well as the home country in strengthening beliefs that perpetuate FGM in the EU.



The authors will like to acknowledge the financial support provided by the European Commission Daphne III project which funded the REPLACE 2 project (JUST/2011-2012/DAP/AG3273). The authors also appreciate the contribution of all the REPLACE 2 partners, namely, APF (Portugal), CESIE (Italy) and Gabinet (Spain) as well as the community-based researchers who collected and supported in analysing the data for the research. The authors are also indebted to all the community members who participated in the REPLACE 2 community-based participatory action research. The content of this paper are the sole responsibility of the authors and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Commission.


Alhassan, Y.N., Barrett, H., Brown, K.E. and Kwah, K. (2016), "Belief systems enforcing female genital mutilation in Europe", International Journal of Human Rights in Healthcare, Vol. 9 No. 1, pp. 29-40.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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