Education may not be the solution to reducing female genital cutting

We found no statistically significant evidence that primary schooling in Nigeria had decreased mothers’ support for the practice.
- Dr Elisabetta De Cao

Education has been hailed as one of the keys to reducing the practice of female genital cutting (FGC), however new research from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and University of South Florida has found no evidence that an increase in the education levels of mothers in Nigeria changed the likelihood of them supporting the practice or of their daughters being victims of FGC.

The paper, published in the American Economic Review Papers and Proceedings, analyses data from the 1999 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey. As part of the survey, women aged 10-49 are asked about FGC, including if they are circumcised, their age at cutting, attitudes towards FGC, if their eldest daughter is cut and, if so, at what age, as well as who performed the procedure.

In Nigeria it is estimated that 20 million girls and women have undergone FGC. Since Nigeria introduced tuition-free primary education in 1976, many more girls have finished school. The girls who benefitted from universal primary education have now grown up and many have children of their own.

Despite this, the study found that there is no statistically significant causal link between a mother’s level of education and whether or not her daughter has been a victim of FGC. In fact, mothers’ views on FGC also did not change significantly when compared to women who did not benefit from the educational reform.  

Dr Elisabetta De Cao, Assistant Professor of Health Economics in the Department of Health Policy at LSE and co-author of the report, said: “Around the world over 200 million girls and women have been victims of female genital cutting. Many suffer severe long-term health problems, both physically and psychologically, including pain, infections and post-traumatic stress. While education may seem logically to be the way to change attitudes and behaviours, we found no statistically significant evidence that primary schooling in Nigeria had decreased mothers’ support for the practice of female genital cutting or the willingness to have her daughter cut.”

Dr Giulia La Mattina, Assistant Professor of Economics in the Department of Economics at the University of South Florida added “It is clear that we must better understand the benefits that parents attribute to cutting if we are to identify policies that will make an impact.”

Read Does Maternal Education Decrease Female Genital Cutting? By Elisabetta De Cao and Giulia La Mattina.


For further information

Contact Jess Winterstein, LSE Media Relations,

Behind the article

Female genital cutting (FGC) are all procedures that involve the removal of external female genitals for non-medical reasons. The use of FGC has declined over time, but it is still practised in many countries in mainly Africa and Southern Asia. At least 200 million women and girls have been victims of FGC.