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Cinema May Turn Tide Against Female Genital Mutilation

FILE - A man's T-shirt reads "Stop the Cut" referring to Female Genital Mutilation during a social event advocating against such harmful practices at the Imbirikani Girls High School in Imbirikani, Kenya, April 21, 2016.

Female genital mutilation has been widely denounced by global and non-governmental organizations. It is a practice that is deeply rooted in some cultures. But a new study indicates attitudes can be changed through film.

Worldwide, more than 200 million girls and women are believed to have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM), according to the World Health Organization. More than 3 million girls are at risk of FGM every year.

In 2012 the United Nations called for a global ban on FGM. Last year world leaders agreed on a target of eliminating FGM by 2030, according to Reuters. A U.N. report this year lists 30 countries where it is practiced, almost all in Africa.

However, the Orchid Project, a charity that campaigns against FGM, says it believes the practice occurs in at least 45 countries and is more widespread in Asia and the Middle East than commonly perceived, Reuters reported.

FGM causes severe pain, excessive bleeding, poor healing and urinary problems, according to WHO. Later, it can cause problems in childbirth and even newborn death. The WHO views it as a form of torture and a violation of the rights of children.

In many cultures, FGM is based in tradition or religion. Many practitioners believe it reduces promiscuity in women, makes women more pure and, in patriarchal societies, more desirable for marriage.

But a new study suggests that cinema can change attitudes about FGM, possibly reducing the practice.

Researchers at the University of Zurich showed four versions of a film to about 8,000 people in 127 villages in Sudan. The films depicted everyday conflicts within extended families.

Researcher Charles Efferson says there is a reason they chose to use cinema to address the problem of FGM.

“Entertainment can be an attractive tool for change because people like to be entertained basically,” he said.

Investigators found that a film examining cultural attitudes toward FGM involving elders in an extended family had the greatest impact. And arguments for the suitability of girls for marriage if they had not been mutilated also seemed to change viewers’ attitude, at least temporarily, toward limiting or ending the practice.

Co-researcher Ernst Fehr says it appears movies might be a more successful strategy to end FGM than criminalization and global condemnation.

“In a nutshell,” he said, “our results show that entertaining movies that dramatize a family’s internal strife about cutting can improve attitudes about uncut girls.”

The Swiss researchers say they want to follow up with the villagers in several months to see whether the films have led to more permanent attitudes against female circumcision.

The findings were published in the journal Nature.