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Changing Harmful Norms through Information and Coordination: Experimental Evidence from Somalia


  • Researchers:
    • Selim Gulesci, Eliana La Ferrara (Bocconi), David Smerdon (University of Queensland), Munshi Sulaiman (BRAC)

  • Partners:
    • Save the Children

  • Location:
    • Somalia

  • Sample:
    • 4,230 households from 141 communities

  • Timeline:
    • 2018-2020

  • Theme:
    • Harmful gender norms

  • Description:
    • Female genital cutting (FGC) is the practice of cutting or removing part of the external or internal female genitalia for non-medical reasons. There can be several explanations for why a harmful practice, such as FGC, may continue being practiced. In this project, we aim to test for two of these explanations. First, FGC is often viewed as the result of a coordination failure. In a setting where individual choices are interdependent, multiple equilibria may exist and one reason for the persistence of bad norms can be a failure to coordinate to the “better” equilibrium. Individuals may know that others do not like FGC but no single individual may want to move unilaterally due to fear of social sanctions. To the extent that individuals worry about social stigma, they may even be hesitant to reveal their private views on FGC to others. Second, individuals may privately dislike FGC but think that others do and therefore they continue doing it. Social psychologists describe as pluralistic ignorance a setting in which a majority of the group privately want to change their behaviour, but mistakenly think that the majority of the other group members prefer to keep the existing behavior. In this project, we aim to test to what extent these two potential reasons may explain why FGC persists in Somalia. In particular, our experiment entails two key components: one directed at providing information (hence correcting misperceptions) by enabling the truthful revelation of attitudes towards FGC; and one directed at providing a coordination device that will facilitate collective action among those who privately support the abandonment of FGM.
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