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Home » INTACT: A Network for FGM/C Research and Change

INTACT: A Network for FGM/C Research and Change




    A Network for FGM/C Research and Change


    Through the initiative

    of the Population Council, a meeting was organized at the Bellagio

    Conference Centre between April 29 and May 3rd, 2002

    to review the status of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C)

    research, identify important gaps, and propose research priorities.

    Another important objective of the meeting was to develop a network

    of researchers, program managers, and other relevant individuals

    and institutions} to ��enhance communication

    and research

    utilization in this field. The most crucial function of this network,

    which would differentiate it from other networks, is to bring scientific

    evidence and analysis to bear on the practice of FGM/C and the societal

    changes needed to see its demise.

    In the weeks following

    the meeting in Bellagio, an internet-based discussion took place

    between the participants that has further advanced the objectives,

    mechanisms and priorities of the proposed network. A technical committee

    was formed, as well as task groups to work on launching a website,

    publishing a monograph of the Bellagio papers, and developing funding

    proposals to support future activities of the network.� A draft

    founding document circulated over the summer to the group for comment

    and is now in its second round of revisions.� A list of the Bellagio

    conference participants, considered the founding members of the

    network, is attached.�

    To provide continuity,

    Dr. Barbara Ibrahim of the Council’s regional program for West

    Asia and North Africa offered the facilities of her Cairo office

    to coordinate the work of the technical committee in launching the

    network. Dr. Nahid Toubia, President of RAINBO, has offered the

    resources and experience of Rainbo to help expand the network membership,

    provide technical support to the website, and generate phased plans

    to ensure the network achieves its objectives.� The network will

    be strengthened to the extent that it is able to expand its active

    membership to include other key institutions and individuals with

    strengths in FGM/C research. That is an immediate priority, along

    with launch of the website, which is currently under construction

    and may be viewed at:�

    The sections that follow outline the rationale

    and mission statement for INTACT, as well as the governing principles,

    working mechanisms, and a plan of action for the launching phase

    of the network. It would be desirable in the future for the Network

    to become a self-sustaining, independent institution or be housed

    permanently in an Africa-based organization.

    Need for a Network

    Since the international involvement

    in the campaign against FGM/C started over 20 years ago, marked

    by the World Health Organization sponsored conference in Khartoum

    in 1979, interest in this issue has increased progressively. Policies

    were announced and projects were funded to target the practice,

    but little investment was made to guide these policies and projects

    with evidence-based information. The involvement of different actors

    in different countries with varying assumptions and values resulted

    in the development of diverse approaches to stopping the practice.

    Only recently has attention started to be given to objectively evaluating

    these approaches and their outcomes.

    A positive advance in the research

    area has been the introduction of a voluntary module on FGM/C in

    the Demographic and Health Survey, DHS, questionnaire. As a result

    better national data started to emerge since 1994 and today we have

    nine countries with base-line data and prevalence figures that could

    be used to monitor change.

    As we assess our progress in the

    campaign against FGM/C, however, we find that we face the following

    important limitations:

    �    An

    insufficient base of research to provide crucial information to

    support advocacy strategies and intervention designs.

    � Limited

    investment in developing methods to evaluate effectiveness, monitor

    progress, and create analytical frameworks to understand the process

    of social change.

    �  Absence

    of venues to disseminate research findings and facilitate dialogue

    between researchers and policy-makers, program planners and activists.

    The success

    of the campaign against FGM/C is greatly disadvantaged by the fact

    that scientists involved in research on FGM/C lack opportunities

    to share insights, technical expertise and the findings of their

    research. The result of this is often a sense of isolation among

    those working on FGM/C research, rendering the field less attractive

    to new and capable researchers, which is essential to providing

    new energies and creativity to any research field.�

    Since research on FGM/C takes place

    across a number of disciplines, investigators conducting clinical,

    social science and operations research on FGC would benefit greatly

    from links to one another to create opportunities to collaborate

    and to advance their techniques and methodology.

    Finally, since research on FGC is marginalized it is also

    underutilized. There remains great potential for strengthening the

    lines of communication between FGC researchers and those working

    in other fields of health that are gender, cultural and socially

    bound such as HIV/AIDS, early marriage and domestic violence among

    others that greatly affect women and children.

    The Network:

    We will address these problems through

    the activities of a broadly-based network of researchers and research-minded

    activists who will contribute vitally to the quality and productivity

    of research on FGM/C, and strengthen the links both among researchers

    and between researchers and those who can use the information they


    The full name for the Network is INTACT

    Network: The International Network to Analyze,

    Communicate and Transform the Campaign against Female Genital Cutting.

    This name was formulated during the Bellagio meeting and was accepted

    by those in attendance unanimously.

    General Objectives of INTACT

    To promote high quality research on FGM/C and the use of

    research findings to realize the full abandonment of female genital

    cutting, the Network aims to:

    1) Identify gaps in research knowledge and advance a research

    agenda that would fill those gaps on an ongoing basis,

    2) Foster collaborations and the exchange of technical expertise

    among FGM/C researchers working in various institutions, disciplines

    and geographic areas; and between them and others working in related


    3) Disseminate pertinent research findings to members of

    the media, policy makers, program planners and others who can translate

    them into actions aimed at promoting the abandonment of FGM/C.

    4) Organize formal training and develop and disseminate materials

    that will translate research findings into actionable intervention

    designs, monitoring and evaluation tools, and effective indicators

    to speed the process of social change.

    Mission Statement

    The mission of the International Network to Analyze, Communicate

    and Transform the Campaign against Female Genital Cutting (INTACT)

    is to promote and disseminate evidence-based research and to actively

    engage donors and local actors — governments and civil society

    organizations — in a dialogue around applying collective learning

    to accelerate positive social change.

    �We will promote research that:

    1)     Provides evidence-based data on the

    effects of FGM/C on the individual, the family and the community

    to be used for persuasive messages in the social and policy dialogues

    around abandoning the practice or legislating against it.

    2)     Promotes greater use of sociological

    and behavioral research to better understand the motivation behind

    continuation as well as abandonment of FGM/C in the context of

    different family and community values, structures and circumstances.

    3)     Advances evaluation research methods

    to identify reasons for change in the practice regardless of whether

    they are intervention (project) or non-intervention (non-project)


    4)     Improves data collecting tools for

    epidemiological and quantitative research to monitor the change

    in prevalence of FGM/C over time.

    5)     Facilitates the rapid and effective

    utilization of research findings to guide the development of policies

    and programs.

    Underlying� philosophy of INTACT

    While a great deal has been written

    about health consequences of FGM/C, careful examination of the literature

    reveals that we have little scientific evidence confirming the existence

    and magnitude of various physical health risks of the practice and

    specifying those associated with specific forms of cutting.

    We have even less information about

    the effects of FGM/C on the psychological, social and sexual well-being

    of women who have been cut, their families and their partners. Misinformation

    about the physical complications and lack of information on the

    other consequences of the practice threaten the efficacy of the

    messages delivered to the communities involved and limit our ability

    to garner the support of the international donor community in our

    aim to end the practice.

    Anthropologists and others have contributed

    substantially to our understanding of the social forces that motivate

    communities to continue genital cutting. Social scientists have

    begun to call for research to fill our gaps in understanding the

    process by which families and communities change their commitments

    to the practice. Such research is vital for the success of the campaign

    to promote the abandonment of FGM/C.

    Drawing a cohesive and comprehensive

    picture of the impact of FGM/C abandonment efforts over the past

    20-25 years is constrained by the poor quality of research designs

    and the absence of a research and evaluation component in many approaches

    used repeatedly over the years.

    To the extent that anti-FGM/C efforts

    have been evaluated, findings often languish in isolated reports

    rather than contributing to a systematic effort to improve programs

    and policies. The identification of the strengths and weakness of

    various interventions, implementation of appropriate strategies,

    disseminating lessons learned, and deployment of cost-effective

    monitoring and evaluation systems can inform future interventions

    and become vital to the progress of the campaign

    The research priorities identified by the Bellagio group

    may be modified once a scientific dialogue is underway by an extended

    membership on all available evidence regarding what information

    is most needed at the current phase of the campaign.

    INTACT’s Operational Strategy:�

    The Network is committed to abiding by the following principles

    as its structure evolves in response to demand and resources:

    • Adhere to

      a clear and focused mission

    • Sustain

      a lean, efficient organizational structure

    • Maintain

      a base in all relevant geographic areas

    • Evolve and

      grow through a process of phased implementation

    • Enlist active

      participation of members who have a strong commitment to the

      mission and objectives of the Network.


    Network Activities

    Activities suggested by the Bellagio group to achieve the

    objectives listed above are:

    �    Organizing periodic technical workshops

    to review research advances and new gaps in FGC research as they


    The workshops will serve to both identify

    gaps in research knowledge and foster the exchange of expertise

    between researchers. We envisage that various member institutions

    will assume responsibility for hosting the meetings on a rotating

    basis. We hope that the periodic workshops will be held in countries

    where FGC is prevalent as a means of publicizing the efforts of

    the network in different countries and making a special effort to

    expose local researchers, implementers and policy makers to research


    �     Launching a website. The

    INTACT Website will serve both researchers who become members, as

    well as the interested public. For that purpose, it will have both

    free-access and pass-word protected pages and perform multiple functions,




    a directory of FGM/C researchers including their contact information

    and research interests;


    research findings and providing links to bibliographies and newly

    published papers as well as working papers on FGM/C;

    o announcing funding opportunities for research,

    fellowships, technical workshops, and other news of relevance;�


    a research news board at which participants can post inquiries

    and exchange information on an immediate basis.


    Periodically publish a monograph

    on recent advances in FGM/C

    This publication will summarize the recent findings from

    research relating to FGC in a format that is accessible to a non-scientific

    audience. The first monograph is being edited by a group of Bellagio

    participants coordinated by Dr. Nahla Abel Tawab, for publication

    early in 2003. We expect that the publication of each issue of this

    series could follow a technical workshop, and will disseminate the

    key insights and findings that are generated and presented at these

    workshops. While print publication will make the work available

    in libraries and places where internet access is limited, all publications

    generated through the network will be immediately available on the

    website as well.

    In addition to these specific planned activities during the

    start-up phase of INTACT, and as resources allow, suggestions were

    made that the network pursue and identify opportunities to:

    �    Form

    links with other organized bodies that are involved in some capacity

    in advancing the campaign against FGM/C, with the goal of disseminating

    information and influencing research.

    �   Train

    young researchers and encourage them to pursue careers in FGM/C-related

    work by creating funded internships, fellowships, and other training


    �   Conduct

    national and regional training workshops for FGM/C program staff

    on research methodologies and monitoring and evaluation of programs.

    Suggested Phases For Activities

    Much of the initial activities of the Network will make use

    of the availability of the Internet, which provides speedy communication

    in a cost-effective way. The launch and early activities of the

    Network will be achieved in three phases:

    Phase I: The Launch� (September 2002

    – September 2003)

    -� Launch of web-site with founding

    document for contribution by the Bellagio members. Pages are under

    construction to share research and other documentation, provide

    information on technical expertise within the membership of INTACT,

    and to allow for posting of announcements of important events and

    upcoming conferences.� Our webmaster for the construction phase

    is Marlyn Tadros of Virtualactivism.    ��

    -� Expand the technical committee (TC).

    Current members of the technical committee include Amel Fahmy (WHO),

    Barbara Ibrahim (PC, Cairo), Ian Askew (PC, Nairobi), Jim Phillips

    (PC, New York), and Nahid Toubia (Rainbo, London.)� It would be

    useful to add a small number of new members, representing additional

    institutions, geographic areas,� and perspectives. The TC will communicate

    by e-mail and tele-conferencing but funding will be sought for the

    TC to meet face-to-face {suggested 1-2} times a year, perhaps taking

    advantage of other meetings to save on costs.

    -� Expand the founding membership by

    inviting key organizations and individuals whose contribution will

    enhance the objectives of stimulating high quality research and

    linking research to changing social behavior around FGM/C. Increasing

    the number of committed institutions is important to the long-term

    sustainability of the Network. It is particularly important to recruit

    membership to the Network from researchers and program managers

    from Africa and to involve more Africa-based institutions.

    -� Develop funding proposals for the

    Network to enable the network to achieve its objectives, based on

    the agreed upon final� founding document. A two- year plan of activities

    has been drafted by the TC/fundraising task group, with funding

    proposed to channel through The Population Council, RAINBO, and

    other institutions as appropriate to the activities. USAID have

    committed funds beginning in summer of 2003 for one year of the

    network’s activities.

    Phase II: Sustaining activities

    This phase will consolidate the activities

    started in 2002-2003 and implement the plan of activities as funding

    allows. The goal of this phase will be to strengthen outreach to

    a large research and policy audience and to sustain the momentum

    of network membership and level of activities. During this phase

    a process will be underway to identify scenarios for the appropriate

    structure and permanent home for the network, ideally in an Africa-based


    Phase III: Evaluation to define long-term structure and activities

    At the end of Phase II the TC will undertake a process of

    evaluating the experience gained by the Network. Based on this evaluation

    and in consultation with the membership, the TC and the two (or

    more?) fostering institutions will formulate longer-term plans for

    the structure and function of INTACT.


    Structure: Phase 1 is going forward with the

    volunteer efforts of interested network members. Funds raised by

    the Population Council from the Rockefeller Foundation and USAID

    are supporting the early coordination efforts, establishment of

    a technical committee, launch of the website, and preparation of

    the Bellagio monograph. Rainbo is contributing senior staff time

    and the accumulated benefits of its leadership role in this field.

    For the implementation of Phase II and beyond, our vision is that

    activities will be realized by task forces made of members

    who are professionally involved in FGM/C research in their respective

    institutions. These task forces will oversee the implementation

    of specific activities, such as the organization of workshops, analysis

    and synthesis of research findings, commentary on the quality and

    validity of research and evaluations, as well as undertake collaborative

    research and training.

    Membership: Membership in the network will be open to those engaged

    in research on FGM/C or in related fields such as violence against

    women, traditional harmful practices, etc. It will also be open

    to those who are active advocates or field practitioners for the

    abandonment of the practice, if they demonstrate an empirical approach

    to their work.


    general principle of membership will be to encourage inclusion of

    a broad and professionally active spectrum of research-oriented

    individuals and institutions. Applications for new membership may

    come via recommendation from current members or by self-application

    and the website. The criteria and procedures for membership will

    be periodically reviewed by the technical committee to assure that

    they are meeting the objectives of the network.


    Recent dialogues among FGC/M researchers have uncovered a

    sense that a network such as INTACT holds great promise for creating

    much-needed coherence in FGM/C research and evaluation activities.

    By promoting the deployment of high quality research, collaborative

    activities, and the development of mechanisms for translating research

    findings to widely disseminated policy and program recommendations,

    INTACT should contribute greatly to the campaign to end this tragically

    harmful practice.