Are There “Stages of Change” in the practice of Female Genital Cutting? Qualitative Research Finding from Senegal and the Gambia

  • B Shell-Duncan
  • Y Herniund


In recent years there has been growing interest in developing theoretical models for understanding behaviour change with respect to the practice of female genital cutting (FGC). Drawing on extensive qualitative data collected in Senegal and The Gambia, the research reported here explores whether and how theoretical models of stages of behaviour change can be applied to FGC. Our findings suggest that individual readiness to change the practice of FGC is most clearly seen as operating along a continuum, and that broad stages of change characterize regions or segments of this continuum. Stages identified by previous researchers for other “problems behaviours” such as smoking inadequately describe readiness to change FGC since this decision is often a collective rather than individual one. The data reveal that the concept of stage of change is a complex construct that simultaneously captures behaviour, motivation, and features of the environment in which the decision is being made. Consequently stages identified in this research reflect the multidimensional nature of readiness to change the practice of FGC. Limitations of stage of change models as applied to FGC include the fact that they do not capture important aspects of the dynamics of negotiation between decision-makers, and do not reflect the shifting nature of opinions of individuals or the constellation of decision-makers. Nonetheless, we suggest the application of stage of change theory may provide a useful means of describing readiness for change of individual decisions-makers, and at an aggregate level, patterns of readiness for change in a community. How this construct can be employed in quantitative population research requires further investigation.

African Journal of Reproductive Health Vol. 10 (2) 2006: pp. 57-71

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eISSN: 1118-4841