Research Article: The effects of migration on the practice and perception Female Genital Cutting (FGC) among the Horn of Africa’s immigrants in Melbourne Australia

Date Published: February 26, 2019

Publisher: AIMS Press

Author(s): Sadia Hassanen, Dawit Okubatsion Woldu, Rahma Mkuu.


This research examines the effects of migration on the practice and perception of Female Genital Mutilation or Cutting (FGM/C) among Horn of Africa immigrants in Melbourne Australia. According to UN 2016 report, on (FGM/C), there are at least 200 million girls and women alive today globally that have undergone some of form of FGM/C. The same report highlights that most of these practices are concentrated in parts of Africa, Middle East and South Asia. Our research employed in-depth semi-structured interviews with 50 men and women informants and five focus groups among the Horn of Africa immigrants living in Melbourne Australia. Interview and focus group data were analysed using MAXQUDA text analysis software to see emerging themes from the data. Upon the examination of the interviews and focus group data, we found that gender and immigration were the two factors that influenced immigrant’s perception about FGC. Understanding the social and cultural dynamics on the perception of FGC among immigrant communities in the West could help in devising appropriate interventions to tackle FGC in several groups where this practice is commonly occurring.

Partial Text

This study examines the impact of migration/immigration, gender, and cultural perceptions on the practice of Female Genital Cutting (FGC) among Horn of Africa migrants in Melbourne, Australia. We are using FGC as broader term to include the different kinds and levels of female genital modification and excisions practiced in the target populations. Furthermore, FGM is only one aspect of genital modification and does not include the different variations that exist among the diverse ethnic groups in the Horn of Africa. More importantly, FGM is a disempowering concept for victims and many of our informants deliberately avoided using FGM to describe their experience and instead use the term “Circumcision”. Finally, the use of the term could alienate governments and communities resulting in refusal to collaborate with researchers and public health officials. The Horn of Africa encompasses Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Sudan. We selected these populations because of their similar social and cultural representations compared to other African migrants in Melbourne, Australia. Second, the Horn of Africa is one of the most conflicted zones in the African continent thus produces a diverse group of refugees and migrants. The refugees and migrants encompassed people from different walks of life, ethnicities, and religions seeking a safe place in the developed world including Australia. While immigrant communities originating from the Horn of Africa have distinct similarities and some interaction, they live disparate and separate lives. The migrants, much the same way they lived in their respective countries of origin, practice their traditions and hold on to cultural values they grew up with. In fact, most of these populations continue to interact with their communities in their respective countries, as geographic, political, and economic barriers are now no longer limited due to technological advances.

Our analysis of both the participant observation and semi-structured interview data produced general patterns and themes. The semi-structured interviews results produced two themes with regards to perceptions and practice of FGC among Horn of Africa migrants living in Australia. The two themes were, 1) gender based experiences influences perceptions of FGC, 2), and immigration to Australia influenced perceptions and practice of FGC. Both the focus group data and participant observation data also confirm to the validity of these emergent themes from the semi-structured interviews.

The results of our research reflect the broader social and cultural understanding of FGC among Horn of Africa immigrants living in Australia. The perceptions of the practice of FGC were largely defined along gender lines and social expectations. Cultures in the Horn of Africa are in many ways considered as patriarchal and traditional societies. Due to gendered nature of several social and cultural expectations, FGC perception and understanding was very much influenced by gender roles and gender expectation among these diaspora community. Women perceived FGC as culturally imposed harmful practice while men mainly viewed as a women’s issue. The men in our study felt culturally excluded from FGC and thus distanced themselves from having limited involvement in the practice. Our results are supported by other studies [29]–[32] that have similar conclusions. Similar to other cultural practices such as the bodily modifications that are imposed on women, FGC is a cultural and traditional practice that is generally unquestioned among women and men in many cultures[31],[32].

Female genital mutilation or circumcision is a challenging cultural practice that has resisted several government efforts and legislations in many countries to eradicate it. Our research does not provide the ultimate solution to the problem; however, it contributes to the current literature adding contextual understanding of the perception of FGC among the target population. The main contribution of our work is that we explored FGC by going beyond examining cultural construction of it. We sought to explore how different social, political, and cultural environment influence the perception and practice of FGC. Specifically, we sought to understand the social, political, and cultural forces that played out on immigrants, who came from countries where this practice is common to change their perspective on FGC. Applying those cultural and social changes in countries where this practice is prevalent could mitigate the problem and save millions of girls from lifelong health and psychological suffering. Developing sustainable women’s empowerment programs, engaging men in the conversations, and introducing the negative impact of FGM in school curriculums could accelerate changes on society’s perspective to FGC.




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