Category: Gender

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.

Conditional Cash Transfers and the Budget Share of Food

From a forthcoming paper by Attanasio et al. in the Economic Journal:

We study food Engel curves amongst the poor population targeted by a conditional cash transfer program in Colombia. After controlling for the endogeneity of total consumption and for the price variability across villages, our estimates imply that an increase in consumption by 10 percent would lead to a decrease of 1 percent in the share of food. However, quasi-experimental estimates of the impact of the program show that the share of food increases. This result is not inconsistent with the hypothesis that the program could increase the bargaining power of women, inducing a more than proportional increase in food consumption.