Social norms, harmful practices and behavioural change

Following up on the global interest generated by the Innocenti publication Changing a Harmful Social Convention: Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (2005), IRC has undertaken further research to develop a greater understanding of the issue and, in particular, the social dynamics around its practice and how they can be reversed to bring about a process of positive social change.

The research aims to influence policies and programmes for the abandonment of harmful practices, such as female genital mutilation/cutting, child marriage and marriage by abduction. Given that many of these practices are rooted in a set of norms that perpetuate gender inequality, it also sheds light on ways to promote gender equality.

IRC has produced, the following studies and documents:

  • Innocenti Insight: The Dynamics of Social Change: Towards the abandonment of FGM/C in five African countries
    The multi-country study, expected to be launched in mid-2010, focuses on FGM/C but takes a more broad approach that refers to harmful practices governed by similar social dynamics, such as child marriage and marriage by abduction. The research refines the academic theory that has been used to examine the social dynamics of FGM/C and other harmful practices. It analyzes the experiences in five countries (Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Senegal, and Sudan) where abandonment is reaching significant scale. It highlights the most promising approaches being used to support social change and how these strategies are being implemented in different countries and cultural contexts. The analysis is intended to provide evidence and reflections to inform policies and programmes in practicing communities, in both countries of origin and in countries of immigration.
  • Special Series on Social Norms and Harmful Practices.
    This set of Innocenti Working Papers provides a detailed description and analysis of the process of abandonment of FGM/C and other practices harmful to children. In 2009, IRC developed the first three working papers of the Special Series:
    - Social Dynamics of Abandonment of Harmful Practices: A new look at the theory
    - Sudan: An in-depth analysis of the social dynamics of abandonment of FGM/C
    - Ethiopia: social dynamics of abandonment of harmful practices. Experiences in four locations.
    The papers confirm that, despite marked differences between and within countries, the process leading to the abandonment of harmful practices has common transformative elements. The new evidence analyzed in these Working Papers is also reflected in the Innocenti Insight (discussed above).
  • Platform for Action towards the Abandonment of FGM/C.
    The Donors Working Group on FGM/C brings together key governmental and intergovernmental organizations and foundations supporting the abandonment of FGM/C through a coordinated and common strategy. Since 2001, it provides a forum for information exchange and joint planning of activities through regular contacts, a website and annual meetings. As part of this effort, the Innocenti Research Centre was asked to take the lead in preparing the consensus document Toward a Common Framework for the Abandonment of FGM/C (2007) and the subsequent and further refined Platform for Action: Towards the Abandonment of FGM/C (2008), available in different languages.
IRC has developed the research under this theme in close collaboration with other UN Agencies, the Child Protection Section and Statistics and Monitoring Section of UNICEF New York, UNICEF Regional and Country Offices and local development and academic partners. The activities have also engaged leading academics in the fields of political science, sociology, economics and anthropology from the University of Southern California - San Diego, Cornell University, Johns Hopkins University, Purdue University and the University of Washington.

To date, the research has contributed to a systemic approach to stimulate and support large scale social transformation that benefits children and women. The findings are reflected in UN policy documents, among others UNICEF Technical Note: Coordinated strategy to abandon female genital mutilation/cutting in one generation (2007); UN Interagency Statement: Eliminating female genital mutilation (2008); Report of the Secretary General on the Girl Child (2009) as well as policy documents of development partners.

The research has been made possible thanks to a generous contribution from the European Commission and from many other contributors.

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