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Evolutionary Colloquium: Dr. Mhairi Gibson, Reader in Anthropology, University of Bristol (UK)

Applying evolutionary anthropology to population health interventions for the Arsi Oromo of Ethiopia.

Mar 22, 2018
from 03:10 PM to 04:00 PM

273 SSH

Based on fieldwork among the Arsi Oromo of Ethiopia, I will discuss how evolutionary anthropology is providing novel insights on two key population health challenges in one rural Ethiopian community. Our work examines the origins and persistence of high birth rates and female genital cutting, and I show how we can inform the design of more effective development intervention.

Testing predictions from evolutionary life history theory we have identified unexpected demographic consequences of introducing development technologies which have dramatically reduced women’s water-carrying workloads. In the absence of culturally appropriate family planning, improving women’s energy budgets has led to increases in birth rates, but also greater resource shortages within households due to larger family sizes.

In addition, I will discuss how evolutionary kin selection, sexual conflict and cultural evolutionary approaches are helping to improve understanding of how and why female genital cutting (FGC) persists despite considerable efforts to eradicate the practice. This work has identified the key sub-groups within the community who are more inclined to favour the practice of FGC, and shown that conformity to normative, but harmful, behaviour may explain the popularity of the practice.