FGC is the practice of cutting or removing part of the external or internal female genitalia for non-medical reasons. FGC is a harmful practice along several dimensions. First, it leads to serious health consequences, both at the time of cutting (e.g., excessive bleeding and increased mortality) and in the long run (e.g., birth-related complications). Second, FGC is associated with lower educational achievement of girls because girls are often pulled out of school after the practice, either due to health complications or because they are seen as having “transitioned” to adulthood. Third, given that FGC is generally performed on young girls without their consent, it is a human rights violation.
There can be several explanations for why a harmful practice, such as FGC, may continue being practised. In this project, we aim to test for two of these explanations. First, FGC is often viewed as the result of a coordination failure. In a setting where individual choices are interdependent, multiple equilibria may exist and one reason for the persistence of bad norms can be a failure to coordinate to the “better” equilibrium. Individuals may know that others do not like FGC but no single individual may want to move unilaterally due to fear of social sanctions. To the extent that individuals worry about social stigma, they may even be hesitant to reveal their private views on FGC to others. Second, individuals may privately dislike FGC but think that others do and therefore they continue doing it. Social psychologists describe as pluralistic ignorance a setting in which a majority of the group privately want to change their behavior, but mistakenly think that the majority of the other group members prefer to keep the existing behavior.
In this project, we aim to test to what extent these two potential reasons may explain why FGC persists in Somalia. In particular, our experiment entails two key components: one directed at providing information (hence correcting misperceptions) by enabling the truthful revelation of attitudes towards FGC; and one directed at providing a coordination device that will facilitate collective action among those who privately support the abandonment of FGM.