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International Discourse and Local Politics: Anti-Female-Genital-Cutting Laws in Egypt, Tanzania, and the United States

NCJ Number
Social Problems Volume: 48 Issue: 4 Dated: November 2001 Pages: 524-544
Elizabeth H. Boyle; Fortunata Songora; Gail Foss
Date Published
November 2001
21 pages
To fully explain modernization and globalization, neo-institutional theory must begin to theorize across levels of analysis; this research provides a first step in this direction as it examines the practice of anti-female-genital-cutting policies in Egypt, Tanzania, and the United States.
Female genital cutting (FGC) is deeply embedded in the culture of a number of African nations, and FGC was once performed on white women in Western nations as a medical treatment for nymphomania and depression. It is still used in the United States to "remedy" nonconforming genitalia, defined as "hermaphroditic." This research found that functionality and international standing combine to influence the level of conflict generated by FGC reform efforts; i.e., when a policy has functional relevance, countries with greater leverage in the international system have more conflict. This may be true in part because such countries generate more media attention. The study found the greatest level of conflict in Egypt, a country with some modicum of power in the international system and in which an anti-FGC policy had functional relevance. The United States, where an anti-FGC policy had little direct effect on the public, had the lowest level of conflict. Although the United State and Tanzania passed formal laws, Egypt has only a health ministry decree against FGC. This shows that leaders faced with high levels of opposition may attempt to avoid formal parliamentary proceedings. The case of Tanzania illustrates how state leaders will emphasize global consensus and adopt the discourse of international actors when a policy might fuel domestic interethnic disputes. In the realm of female genital cutting, it appears likely that education will be the key to the successful eradication of the practice, and the global diffusion of national policies may facilitate the development of local educational programs. 104 references


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