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Perpetuation Of FGM Based On Cultural Evolution, Researchers Say; Understanding Could Be Important For Prevention Efforts

Agence France-Presse: Female genital cutting has ‘evolutionary’ drive: study
“The widely condemned practice of ceremonial genital mutilation among girls and young women follows an evolutionary logic, according to a provocative study published Monday. Understanding this logic — which the researchers described as ‘cultural,’ not biological — may help fulfill the U.N. goal of eliminated the practice worldwide by 2030, the authors said…” (Hood, 2/6).

Economist: Cultural evolution and the mutilation of women
“Genes that increase an individual’s reproductive output will be preserved and spread from generation to generation. That is the process of evolution by natural selection. More subtly, though, in species that have the sorts of learnable, and thus transmissible, behavior patterns known as culture, cultural changes that promote successful reproduction are also likely to spread. This sort of cultural evolution is less studied than the genetic variety, but perhaps that should change, for a paper published this week in Nature Ecology and Evolution, by Janet Howard and Mhairi Gibson of the University of Bristol, in England, suggests understanding it better may help to wipe out a particularly unpleasant practice, that of female genital mutilation…” (2/6).

NPR: Study: A New Strategy To Stop Female Genital Mutilation
“…Researchers … looked at data on more that 60,000 women over the age of 40 in five West African countries who had at least one daughter. And they found that in cultures where the practice of cutting all or part of a woman’s external genitalia is prevalent, cut women, compared to uncut women, have more babies who survive. ‘In societies where cutting is the norm, being cut gives women social status and more social support among women,’ says Janet Howard, lead author of the article and anthropology professor at the University of Bristol. ‘They have more and better marriage opportunities’ — and thus a better chance of bearing children. The study appears on Monday in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution…” (Brink, 2/6).

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