• Janet Howard

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Female genital cutting (FGC) and intimate partner violence (IPV) both involve individuals causing harm to a close family member. Their global impact on health and well-being is considerable; 3 million girls are at risk of FGC every year and 30% of women experience IPV in their lifetime. The persistence of these paradoxical behaviours is of interest to both evolutionary scientists and policy makers. Despite intense research and programme activity, the motivations for both behaviours remain elusive, and implementing behavioural change has proved challenging.

In this thesis I explore the persistence of FGC and IPV with three main objectives; 1) to gain further understanding of risk factors, 2) to test whether evolutionary theory can explain perpetrator motives, and 3) to draw out implications relevant to policy work. Throughout, I test commonly held assumptions concerning these behaviours. These objectives are investigated in four research chapters (two published and two written for submission) using secondary datasets from countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

The results show that women who conform to the FGC norm within their community have higher evolutionary fitness, and that paternity concern may also influence FGC behaviour via marriage preferences. The policy implications include targeting communities in which FGC is the majority behaviour. IPV types are found to be associated with different perpetrator motives, and diverging evolutionary interests between husbands and wives (sexual conflict) increases the risk of men perpetrating physical but not sexual IPV. This suggests that IPV programmes should address IPV sub-types separately. Finally, I find no association between FGC status and IPV experience. This indicates that eradication programmes tailored to the specific risk factors involved in either IPV or FGC will be more effective. The results demonstrate some novel risk factors relating to FGC and IPV, and reveal how evolutionary and cultural forces may contribute towards their persistence.
Date of Award25 Jun 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorMhairi A Gibson (Supervisor) & Katharine Robson Brown (Supervisor)


  • Female genital cutting
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Evolutionary anthropology

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