Category: Gender

Summary and Slides of My Talk on Female Genital Cutting

Last week I gave talks — the same talk twice, really — in London and in Frankfurt on female genital cutting.

As it turns out, the nice folks at the London International Development Centre have a posted a nice summary of my talk (complete with a picture of me giving the talk) here, along with the slides for my presentation.

I have talked about this paper a few times already on this blog, but the paper keeps improving. The version of the paper in the slides available from the LIDC website covers both Senegal and the Gambia, and it discusses how and speculates about why the persistence of FGC differs between the two countries.

New Working Paper: Explaining the Persistence of Female Genital Cutting in The Gambia

Why does female genital cutting (FGC) persist in certain places while has declined elsewhere? Using survey data from the Gambia, we study an important aspect of the persistence of FGC, namely the relationship between (i) whether a woman has undergone FGC and (ii) her support for the practice. Our data exhibit sufficient intrahousehold variation in both FGC status and in support for the practice to allow controlling for unobserved heterogeneity between households. First, our results suggest that a woman who has undergone FGC 40 percentage points more likely to be in favor of the practice, from a baseline likelihood of 40%. Second, our findings indicate that 85% of the relationship between whether a woman has undergone FGC and her support for the practice can be attributed to individual- or household-level factors, but that only 15% of that relationship can be explained by factors at the village level or beyond. This suggests that village-wide pledges against FGC, though they have worked well in neighboring Senegal, are unlikely to be effective in the Gambia. Rather, policies aimed at eliminating FGC in this context should instead target individuals and households if they are to be effective.

That’s the abstract of my most recent working paper (see here for the RepEc version, and here for the SSRN version), “All in the Family: Explaining the Persistence of Female Genital Cutting in The Gambia,” which my former Masters student Tara Steinmetz (who was a Peace Corps volunteer in The Gambia) and I have been working on for quite some time. A previous version had been circulated for the Midwest International Economic Development Conference, but this one is considerably improved. As with any working paper, the caveat that these results have not yet been through the peer-review process applies. Continue reading

The Demand for Food of Poor Urban Households in Mexico

A cool new article in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy by Manuela Angelucci and Orazio Attanasio:

We use Oportunidades, a conditional cash transfer to women, to show that standard demand models do not represent the sample’s behavior: Oportunidades increases eligible households’ food budget shares, despite food being a necessity; demand for food and high-protein food changes over time only in treatment areas; the treatment effects on food and high-protein food consumption are larger than the prediction from the Engel curves at baseline; and the curves do not change in eligible households with high baseline bargaining power for the transfer recipient. Thus, handing transfers to women is a likely determinant of the observed nutritional changes.

Some of this might be a bit too technical for non-economists, so let’s take a closer look at their findings: Continue reading

When Female Genital Mutilation Ain’t Enough

Most of you will probably be familiar with the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM), in which a woman’s external genitalia is partially or totally removed. As per Wikipedia, there are four types of FGM:

The main three are Type I, removal of the clitoral hood, almost invariably accompanied by removal of the clitoris itself (clitoridectomy); Type II, removal of the clitoris and inner labia; and Type III (infibulation), removal of all or part of the inner and outer labia, and usually the clitoris, and the fusion of the wound, leaving a small hole for the passage of urine and menstrual blood—the fused wound is opened for intercourse and childbirth.

The fourth type of FGM covers procedures that do not neatly fit in the above three categories.

I am currently working on a paper on FGM with a former student of mine, Tara Steinmetz. But because we are planning on submitting our paper to a medical journal (and because medical journals are serious about researchers not posting their findings anywhere pre-publication), you will have to wait until our paper is published to hear about our findings.

Rather, the reason why I bring up FGM is because Linda Raftree had an excellent write up on her blog last week about another similarly disturbing practice which I had not yet heard of — breast flattening:

“Breast flattening,” also known as “breast ironing” or “breast massage,” is a practice whereby a young girl’s developing breasts are massaged, pounded, pressed, or patted with an object, usually heated in a wooden fire, to make them stop developing, grow more slowly or disappear completely.

(…) [B]reast flattening is practiced out of a desire to delay a girl’s physical development and reduce the risk of promiscuous behavior. Proponents of the practice consider that “men will pursue ‘developed’ girls and that girl children are not able to cope with or deter men’s attention. They see that promiscuity can result in early pregnancy, which limits educational, career, and marriage opportunities, shames the family, increases costs to family (newborn, loss of bride price, health complications from early childbirth or unsafe abortion).” In addition, there is the belief that girls are not sufficiently intellectually developed to learn about puberty, and therefore should not yet develop breasts. Another reason given for the practice is the belief that girls who develop before their classmates will be the target of teasing and become social outcasts. There is also, for some, the belief that large breasts are unattractive or not fashionable.

My colleague and mentor Don Taylor claims that the existence of FGM can serve as a litmus test to assess whether someone is a true relativist — a true-blue relativist would be okay with FGM.

While I agree that promiscuity can result in very bad outcomes for young women, I find the argument that girls are not sufficiently intellectually developed to learn about sexual and reproductive health particularly repugnant, especially when it leads to practices such as breast flattening. But then again, I am most definitely not a relativist.

Let the Little Boys Die

A hard-hitting, must-read Global Dashboard post by David Steven in reaction to the World Bank’s World Development Report 2012’s claim that “four million girls and women ‘go missing’ each year in developing countries”:

So what’s going on? The answer is slightly hard to follow: girls are significantly less likely to die of infectious diseases than boys, but they are even less likely to die of perinatal conditions (in or just after childbirth). So while all children benefit as infectious diseases are tackled, girls benefit slightly more than boys.

In other words, there’s no discrimination in play and this section of the report is based on a statistical artefact. Or a red herring. Or a tendentious attempt to beef up a press release (and if the result implies the health of poor girls matters more than that of poor boys – well, hey ho).

My conclusion: the 4 million figure is an advocacy stat of the worst kind. Lazy in its execution. And borderline dishonest in its presentation – especially for those who read the op-ed, and fail to find the detail buried in the report.

The WDR website may be cock-a-hoop that it garnered “156 news stories published by lead print news outlets across the world, in just a week.” But I don’t think a blitz of favorable media for the Bank is what the WDR should be all about…

This post is merely a digest of David’s post, so be sure to read his post in its entirety.