For a harmful social practice to stop, people must band together and publicly abandon it.
Gerry Mackie of Political Science, co-director of the Center on Global Justice at UC San Diego, has been studying and advising the NGO Tostan since 1998, whose work in Senegal has helped along mass abandonment of female genital cutting.
The collective pledge to end a harmful practice is key and it is only accomplished through understanding the social norm that perpetuates it. The parents who have their daughters cut don't want to see them hurt or disfigured, they want to assure them of being marriageable in their society. So, Mackie says, a whole intermarrying community has to be organized to give it up at once.
This is how foot-binding ended in China at the beginning of the last century. This is how female genital cutting is ending in Senegal now. And this is how other harmful practices might be encouraged to end as well.
This idea of effecting social change through changing social norms is a central focus of the Center on Global Justice, launched in 2011. To that end, the center has signed a project cooperation agreement with UNICEF to 1)identify social norms that are harming children and 2) develop tools to measure progress in changing those norms.
Co-directed by Fonna Forman of Political Science, the center is also committed to "Social Science research in action" and to developing the mutually beneficial interplay of theory and practice.