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Indirect methods reveal hidden support for female genital cutting in South-Central Ethiopia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e0193985
JournalPLoS ONE
DOIs
DateSubmitted - 2017
DateAccepted/In press - 21 Feb 2018
DatePublished (current) - 2 May 2018

Abstract

Female genital cutting (FGC) has major implications for women’s physical, sexual and psychological health, and eliminating the practice is a key target for public health policy-makers. To date one of the main barriers to achieving this has been an inability to infer privately-held views on FGC within communities where it is prevalent. As a sensitive (and often illegal) topic, people are anticipated to hide their true support for the practice when questioned directly.

Here we use an indirect questioning method (unmatched count technique) to identify hidden support for FGC in a rural Southern Ethiopian community where the practice is common, but thought to be in decline. Employing a socio-demographic household survey of 1620 Arsi Oromo adults, which incorporated both direct and indirect direct response (unmatched count) techniques we compare directly-stated versus privately-held views in support of FGC, and individual variation in responses by age, gender and education and target female (daughters versus daughters-in-law).

Both genders express low support for FGC when questioned directly, while indirect methods reveal substantially higher acceptance (of cutting both daughters and daughters-in-law). Educated adults (those who have attended school) are privately more supportive of the practice than they are prepared to admit openly to an interviewer, indicating that education may heighten secrecy rather than decrease support for FGC. Older individuals hold the strongest views in favour of FGC (particularly educated older males), but they are also more inclined to conceal their support for FGC when questioned directly. As these elders represent the most influential members of society, their hidden support for FGC may constitute a pivotal barrier to eliminating the practice in this community.

Our results demonstrate the great potential for indirect questioning methods to advance knowledge and inform policy on culturally-sensitive topics like FGC; providing more reliable data and improving understanding of the “true” drivers of FGC.

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