Date of Award

8-2018

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

College/School

College of Education and Human Services

Department/Program

Family Science and Human Development

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Pearl Stewart

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Kathryn Herr

Committee Member

Jonathan Caspi

Committee Member

Katia Paz Goldfarb

Subject(s)

Female circumcision, West Africans--New York (State), West Africans--New Jersey

Abstract

This community-based participatory action research study’s primary purposes were first to reach a fuller understanding of the reasons for the continuation and perpetuation of FGM in the context of immigration and second to find out how the New York-New Jersey West African im/migrant community wanted to address FGM. This research afforded the conceptualization of West African im/migrant thoughts, tradeoffs considerations, and calculations behind the FGM decision-making process. The data divulged the West African im/migrants’ concept of mobility and reflect a specific idiosyncrasy in their relentless intent to return to their native countries. This conscious conviction brands them as migrants rather than immigrants, indicating a mindset of living in the United States for a finite period of time before returning to their West African countries. Concurrently, these im/migrant parents worry about their daughters’ futures, which must align with the home culture if they are to be able to re/integrate upon return to the homeland. Further, the study revealed the complex inner worries and fears of vulnerable African im/migrants, many of whom carry a past history of extreme trauma and difficult trust relations with the Western world along with their cultural values and mores. These complex worries define the African im/migrants’ landscape of poignant tradeoffs in both the United States and Africa, while causing them to closely guard the only valuable asset they have left, their identity.

The primary purposes of this community-based participatory action research study were first to reach a fuller understanding of the reasons for the continuation and perpetuation of FGM in the context of immigration and second to find out how the New York-New Jersey West African im/migrant community wanted to address FGM. This research revealed how West African im/migrants conceptualize FGM as well as the tradeoffs and calculations underlying their decision-making process around FGM. The data revealed the West African im/migrants’ concept of mobility and reflect culturally specific elements in their determination to return to their native countries. This conviction means they are best described as migrants rather than immigrants, indicating a mindset of living in the United States for a finite period of time before returning to their West African countries. Concurrently, these im/migrant parents worry about their daughters’ futures, which must align with the home culture if they are to be able to re/integrate upon return to the homeland. Further, the study revealed the complex inner worries and fears of vulnerable African im/migrants, many of whom carry a past history of extreme trauma and difficult trust relations with the Western world along with their own cultural values and mores. These complex worries define the African im/migrants’ landscape of poignant tradeoffs in both the United States and Africa, while causing them to closely guard the only valuable asset they have left, their identities.

In order to better understand what is holding FGM in place among members of the African Diaspora even in contexts that are not supportive of the practice, the theoretical lens for this research was the Black African Feminist à la Awa Thiam (BAFAT) framework. This approach recognizes that, in order to truly understand the maintenance of FGM, one must recognize the ways in which gender construction intersects with the unique socio-cultural and historical contexts of African im/migrants. In the present study, a determining factor in immigrant parents’ choice to continue practicing FGM is their perception of sexual liberty within American society and the need to protect their daughters’ social position and honor.

This study reveals a more complex understanding of FGM in the context of migration and showeshow the considerations of mobility plus daughters’ futures intersect with culture, religion, sexual behavior, and continental social acceptability/marriageability to influence West African im/migrants’ decision to continue FGM while downplaying the potential penalties if their involvement in the practice is discovered during their stay in the host country.

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