Utskrift från Malmö universitets webbplats www.mah.se

Sara Johnsdotter, PhD in Social Anthropology


Professor in Health and Society/Medical Anthropology  


Faculty of Health and Society
Malmö University
SE-205 06 Malmö, Sweden

Phone numbers

               +46 40 665 79 43        
               +46 706 51 92 17        

E-mail address



Research interests


Female circumcision, genital modifications, sexuality, medical anthropology.
Swedish Somalis: integration and transnationalism.




My focus of interest is female circumcision in its various forms. With these practices as a starting point, my projects have come to concern medical anthropology, sexuality, the life situation of Swedish Somalis and also how they are treated in the Swedish society.

My anthropological fieldwork was conducted during 1995-1998, living with my family in the neighborhood Rosengård in Malmö (an area where a vast majority is foreign-born). My research concerning Somalis during this period ended up in the PhD thesis Created by God (2002).

Since 1997, many of my projects have been conducted in close collaboration with Professor Birgitta Essén, consultant at Uppsala University Hospital and specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology at IMCH, Uppsala University.

Our ongoing project, financed by the Swedish Research Council, includes an analysis of six forms of genital modifications – female and male circumcision, hymenoplasty, designer vaginas, surgery of intersexual infants and transsexual adults – and how societal attitudes to these modifications relate to time- and culture-bound values. (Link below.)




Doctoral dissertation

2002 Created by God: How Somalis in Swedish Exile Reassess the Practice of Female Circumcision. Doctoral dissertation. Lund University: Department of Social Anthropology.


Edited book

Larsson M & Johnsdotter S (2015, eds.): Sexual Fantasies: At the Convergence of the Cultural and the Individual. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang Academic Research. Read more


Peer-reviewed articles


Palm C, Essén B, Johnsdotter S (in press). “Sexual-health counselling targeting girls and young women with female genital cutting in Sweden: mind-body dualism affecting social and health care professionals’ perspectives”. Accepted for publication in Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters.

Johnsdotter S (2019). "Meaning well while doing harm: compulsory genital examinations in Swedish African girls." Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters 27:2, 1586817, doi: 10.1080/26410397.2019.1586817

Mestre i Mestre R & Johnsdotter S (2019). ”Court cases, cultural expertise, and ‘female genital mutilation’ in Europe.”  Special Issue: Cultural Expertise and Socio-Legal Studies. Studies in Law, Politics, and Society 78: 95–113.

Arvidsson A, Johnsdotter S, Emmelin M, Essén B (2018). “Being questioned as parents: an interview study with Swedish commissioning parents using transnational surrogacy.” Reproductive Biomedicine & Society. doi.org/10.1016/j.rbms.2018.08.001

Wahlberg A, Essén B, Johnsdotter S (2018). “From sameness to difference: Swedish Somalis’ post-migration perceptions of the circumcision of girls and boys.” Culture, Health & Sexuality. doi.org/10.1080/13691058.2018.1502472

Arousell J, Carlbom A, Johnsdotter S, Essén B (2018). "Are 'low socioeconomic status' and 'religiousness' barriers to minority women's contraceptive use in Sweden and Denmark? A qualitative interrogation of a common argument in health research." European Journal of Public Health, Suppl 1, 28: 121–121.

Arvidsson A, Johnsdotter S, Emmelin M, Essén B (2018). "Gauging the interests of birth mother and child: A qualitative study of Swedish social workers’ experiences of transnational gestational surrogacy." European Journal of Social Work 21(1): 86–99.

Johnsdotter S (2018). "The impact of migration on attitudes to female genital cutting and experiences of sexual dysfunction among migrant women with FGC." Current Sexual Health Reports 10(1): 18–24.

Johnsdotter S, Mestre i Mestre RM (2017). "‘Female genital mutilation’ in Europe: Public discourse versus empirical evidence." International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice 51: 14–23.

Wahlberg A, Johnsdotter S, Ekholm Selling K, Källestål C, Essén B (2017). "Baseline data from a planned RCT on attitudes to female genital cutting after migration: when are interventions justified?" BMJ Open 7(8); e017506.

Wahlberg A, Johnsdotter S, Ekholm Selling K, Källestål C, Essén B (2017). "Factors associated with the support of pricking (female genital cutting type IV) among Somali immigrants – a cross-sectional study in Sweden." Reproductive Health 14:92; doi 10.1186/s12978-017-0351-0.

Arvidsson A, Vauquline P, Johnsdotter S, Birgitta Essén B (2017). "Surrogate mother – praiseworthy or stigmatized: A qualitative study on perceptions of surrogacy in Assam, India." Global Health Action 10(1):1328890.

Arousell J, Carlbom A, Johnsdotter S, Larsson E, Essén B (2017). "Unintended consequences of gender equality promotion in Swedish multicultural contraceptive counseling: a discourse analysis." Qualitative Health Research 27(10): 1518–1528.

Binder-Finnema P, Mahmud AOG, Johnsdotter S, Essén B (2017). "'I have made children, so what's the problem?' Retrospective self-circumcision and the sexual and urological health needs of some Somali men in Sweden." Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare 11: 36–40.
Johnsdotter S, Essén B (2016). "Cultural change after migration: Circumcision of girls in Western migrant communities." Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology 32:15–25.

Litorp H, Mgaya A, Kidanto HL, Johnsdotter S, Essén B (2015). "'What about the mother?' Women's and caregivers' perspectives on Caesarean birth in a low-resource setting with rising Caesarean section rates." Midwifery 31(7): 713–720.

Arvidsson A, Johnsdotter S, Essén B (2015). “Views of Swedish commissioning parents relating to the exploitation discourse in using transnational surrogacy.” PLoS ONE 10(5): e0126518.

Johnsdotter S (2013). "European Somali children dumped? On families, parents, and children in a transnational context." European Journal of Social Work 18 (1): 81–96.

Binder P, Johnsdotter S, Essén, B (2013). "More than re-establishing the partner relationship: Intimate aftercare for Somali parents in diaspora." Midwifery  29: 863–870.

Johnsdotter, S (2012). "Projected cultural histories of the cutting of female genitalia. A poor reflection as in a mirror." History and Anthropology 23 (1): 91–114.

Ingvarsdotter K, Johnsdotter S, Östman M (2012). "Normal crises and insanity – mental illness contextualised." European Journal of Social Work 15(3): 345–360.

Ingvarsdotter K, Johnsdotter S, Östman M (2012): "Lost in interpretation: The use of interpreters in research on mental ill health." International Journal of Social Psychiatry 58 (1): 34–40.

The Public Policy Advisory Network on Female Genital Surgeries in Africa (2012, Johnsdotter one of fifteen co-signatories). "Seven things to know about female genital surgeries in Africa." Hastings Center Report 6: 19–27.

Binder P, Johnsdotter S, Essén B (2012): "Conceptualising the prevention of adverse obstetric outcomes among immigrants using the 'three delays' framework in a high-income context." Social Science and Medicine 75: 2028–2036.

Binder P, Borné Y, Johnsdotter S, Essén B (2012): "Shared language is essential: Communication in a multi-ethnic obstetric care setting." Journal of Health Communication 17 (10): 1171–1186.

Essén B, Binder P, Johnsdotter S (2011): "An anthropological analysis of the perspectives of Somali women in the West and their obstetric care providers on Caesarean birth." Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology 32 (1): 10–18.

Johnsdotter S, Ingvarsdotter K, Östman M, Carlbom A (2011): "Koran reading and negotiation with jinn: Strategies to deal with mental ill health among Swedish Somalis." Mental Health, Religion and Culture 14 (8): 741–755.

Johnsdotter S (2011): "'The flow of her cum': On a recent semantic shift in an erotic word." Sexuality and Culture 15: 179–194.

Johnsdotter S, Essén B (2010). "Genitals and ethnicity: the politics of genital modifications." Reproductive Health Matters 18 (35): 29–37.

Essén B, Blomkvist A, Helström L, Johnsdotter S (2010): "The experience and responses of Swedish health professionals to patients requesting virginity restoration (hymen repair)." Reproductive Health Matters 18 (35): 38–46.

Johnsdotter S, Moussa K, Carlbom A, Aregai R, Essén B. (2009). "'Never my daughters'. A qualitative study regarding attitude change towards female genital cutting among Ethiopian and Eritrean families in Sweden." Health Care for Women International 30 (1): 114–133.

Johnsdotter S (2008). "Popular notions of FGC in Sweden: The case of Ali Elmi." Finnish Journal of Ethnicity and Migration 3 (2): 74–82.

Elebro K, Rööst M, Moussa K, Johnsdotter S, Essén B (2007). "Missclassified maternal deaths among East African immigrants in Sweden." Reproductive Health Matters 15 (30): 153–162.

Leye E, Deblonde J, García-Añon J, Johnsdotter S, Kwateng-Kluvitse A, Weil-Curiel L, Temmerman M (2007). "An analysis of the implementation of laws with regard to female genital mutilation in Europe." Crime, Law and Social Change 47 (1): 1–31.

Tamaddon L, Johnsdotter S, Liljestrand J, Essén B (2006). “Swedish health care providers’ experience and knowledge of female genital cutting.” Health Care For Women International 27(8):709-722.

Johnsdotter S, Essén B (2005). "It is only a tradition: making sense of Swedish Somalis' narratives of female circumcision and avoiding submission to hegemonic political discourse." Critical Social Policy 25 (4): 578–596.

Rööst M, Johnsdotter S, Liljestrand J, Essén B (2004). "A qualitative study of conceptions and attitudes regarding maternal mortality among Traditional Birth Attendants in rural Guatemala." British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 111: 1372–1377.

Essén B, Johnsdotter S (2004). "Female genital mutilation in the West: Traditional circumcision versus genital cosmetic surgery." Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand 83: 611–613.

Johnsdotter S (2003). "Somali women in western exile: Reassessing female circumcision in the light of Islamic teachings." Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 23 (2): 361–373.

Essén B, Johnsdotter S, Hovelius B, Gudmundsson S, Sjöberg N-O, Friedman J, Östergren P-O (2000). "Qualitative study of pregnancy and childbirth experiences in Somalian women resident in Sweden." British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 107: 1507–1512.



Abdulcadir J, Abdulcadir O, Caillet M, Catania L, Cuzin B, Essén B, Foldès P, Johnsdotter S, Johnson-Agbakwu C, Nour N, Ouedraogo C, Warren N, Wylomanski S (2017). “Clitoral surgery after Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting”. Letter to the Editor. Aesthetic Surgery Journal, doi.org/10.1093/asj/sjx095

Essén B, Johnsdotter S (2015). “Transnational surrogacy: Reproductive rights for whom?” Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica 94(5):449–450.

S (2013). “Discourses on sexual pleasure after genital modifications: The fallacy of genital determinism (a response to J. Steven Svoboda).” Global Discourse 3 (2), 256–265. (Also published as a chapter in the anthology Circumcision, Public Health, Genital Autonomy and Cultural Rights, 2014).

Johnsdotter S, Eriksson H (2013). "Integrating social aspects into biomedicine." Journal of Modern Medicinal Chemistry 1(1): 61–63.


Book Chapters


Johnsdotter S (2018). “Girls and Boys as Victims: Asymmetries and dynamics in European public discourses on genital modifications in children.” FGM/C: From Medicine to Critical Anthropology. Eds: Fusaschi M & Cavatorta G. Pp. 33–49. Torino: Meti Edizioni.

Johnsdotter S (2017). "Can the legal concept of 'neglect of care' work as a preventive tool in Europe? Potentials and risks of a novel approach to protecting girls from FGC." In N Gómez, AK Marcusán, M Thill (eds.), Socio-Cultural and Legal Aspects of Female Genital Mutilation: Transnational Experiences of Prevention and Protection. Pp. 281-284. Madrid: MAP-FGM. Multisectorial Academic Programme to Prevent and Combat Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting.

Johnsdotter S (2015). "Genital cutting, female." Encyclopedia of Human Sexuality. Eds: P Whelehan & A Bolin. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Johnsdotter S (2015). "Written erotica: A case of language-induced sexual excitement." Sexual Fantasies: At the Convergence of the Cultural and the Individual. Eds: M Larsson & S Johnsdotter. 37–55. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang Academic Research.

Johnsdotter S (2014). ”Discourses on sexual pleasure after genital modifications: the fallacy of genital determinism (a response to J. Steven Svoboda).” Circumcision, Public Health, Genital Autonomy and Cultural Rights. Eds: M Johnson & M O'Branski. London, New York: Routledge. (Also published in the journal Global Discourse, 2013.)

Johnsdotter S (2010). "Female circumcision – violence in the name of religion?" Religion and Violence. Jeff Ross, ed. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe Publisher.

Johnsdotter S (2007). "Persistence of tradition or reassessment of cultural practices in exile? Discourses on female circumcision among and about Swedish Somalis." Transcultural Bodies: Female Genital Cutting in Global Context. Eds: Ylva Hernlund and Bettina Shell-Duncan. New Brunnswick: Rutgers.




Johnsdotter S, Mestre i Mestre RM (2015). Female Genital Mutilation in Europe: An Analysis of Court Cases. Brussels: European Commission, The Directorate-General for Justice.

Johnsdotter S (2009). Discrimination of certain ethnic groups? Ethical aspects of implementing the FGM legislation in Sweden. (National report, EC Daphne project “Towards an improved enforcement of FGM-legislation in Europe.”) Faculty of Health and Society, Malmö University. Download

Johnsdotter S (2004). FGM in Sweden: Swedish Legislation Regarding "Female Genital Mutilation" and Implementation of the Law. Research Report in Sociology 2004:1. Department of Sociology, Lund University. (National report, EC Daphne project "Evaluating the impact of existing legislation in Europe with regard to female genital mutilation.")


Conference Papers

• ”Meaning Well while Doing Harm: Societal measures to check for FGM in Sweden.” 3rd International Expert Meeting on Management and Prevention of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting. Brussels, Belgium, 20-21 May 2019.

• “Working for change – failing to acknowledge change: The paradox of anti-FGM campaigning in Sweden.” Invited paper presentation, III International Forum on FGM/C in The Gambia: Exploring strategies and good practices. Brufut, The Gambia, 5-6 February 2019.

• “Cosmetic Female Genital Cutting in the West: Cultural ideas about benefits and harms.” Invited paper presentation, International Forum on Female Genital Mutilation / Cutting (FGM/C): Exploring strategies and good practices – From local to global. Barcelona, Spain, 19-21 November 2018.

• “The multiple effects of ’Female Genital Mutilation’ laws: The case of Sweden.” Invited paper presentation at Public Forum The multiple effects of Female Genital Mutilation laws. Deakin University, University of Melbourne, University of Wollongong Australia, Institute of Postcolonial Studies. Melbourne, Australia, 13 November 2018.

• "‘Female Genital Mutilation’ in the Global North: Risk factors for triggering the child protection and forensic systems.” Paper presentation at the 9th FOKO conference, Female Genital Cutting: The Global North & South, Höör, Sweden, October 26-28, 2018.

• “The FGM discourse, western repressive actions, and suffering.” Paper presentation at the biennal 15th conference of the European Association of Social Anthropologists: Staying, Moving, Settling. Stockholm, Sweden, 14-17 August 2018.

• “The intricate Type 4 category: legal, medical, and political aspects.” Paper presented at the 2nd International Expert Meeting on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting. Sharing data and experiences, improving collaboration. Montreal, Canada, 28-29 May 2018.

• “Girls and Boys as Victims: Asymmetries and dynamics in European public discourses on genital modifications in children.” Invited paper presentation at the conference International Seminar FGM/C: From Medicine to Critical Anthropology, Roma Tre Univeristy, Rome, Italy, November 24-25, 2017.

• “The ‘maturity’ criterion for reconstructive clitoral surgery in circumcised women.” Paper presentation at the XXXVth International Congress on Law and Mental Health. University of Prague, Czech Republic, July 9-14, 2017.

• "Can the legal concept of ‘neglect of care’ work as a preventive tool in Europe? Potentials and risks of a novel approach to protecting girls from FGC”. Invited paper presentation at the conference Care and Prevention of FGM/C in Europe. University of Madrid, Spain, 3-4 February, 2017.

• "Reconstructive clitoral surgery in circumcised women: political aspects." Paper presentation at the 8th FOKO Conference in Helsinki, Finland, October 13-14, 2016.

• ”Reconstructive clitoral surgery in circumcised women: medicine and politics intertwined”. Invited paper presentation at the PhD student workshop in Sociology, Corps, sante, sexualite: rapports de pouvoir et pratiques de resistance, in Villars, Switzerland, 9-10 June, 2016.

• "How the construction of 'female genital mutilation' as a social problem leads to alarmist estimates of illegal circumcision of girls in Europe." Paper presentation at the annual SANT conference. Göteborg University, Göteborg, April 21-23, 2016.

• "The upsurge of reconstructive surgery of the clitoris – the white man's burden revisited." Paper presentation at the annual SANT conference. Lund University, Lund, April 17-19, 2015.
• “Culture and sexual scripts in and out of Africa: Understanding FGC in relation to sexuality.” Invited paper presented at Management of Women with FGM/C: 1st International Consultation. Paris University/Sorbonne, France, January 27-28, 2015.
• “FGM in the mass media: The alleged case of 60 mutilated girls in Norrköping, Sweden, in 2014.” Paper presentation at the 7th FOKO Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, November 11-12, 2014.
• "Placebo and 21st century physicians: The King's Touch or a stool at the bedside?" Medical anthropology panel. SANT, Linköping, 3-5 April 2014.

• "Circumcision narratives in the media: What have discourses to do with gender constructions?" Media, Discourses and Narratives. SoL, Lund University, Lund 21 November 2013.

• "Genital modifications, complications and ideas about consequences for sexuality." The Surgical ReConstruction of Sex. Universitet Zürich, Zürich, 13-15 June 2013. Invited paper presenter.

• "The practice that can't be named." Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, San Fransisco CA, Nov 20-24, 2012, Borders and Crossings. Chair, invited session on the politics of female circumcision.

• "Female circumcision and sexuality". Paper presentation. 6th FOKO Conference, Oslo, 18-20 October 2012.

• "Language and sexuality – the research field." Paper presentation, SoL, Lund University, 17 October 2012.

• "Ideologies banning, accepting or encouraging genital modifications." Paper presentation at the symposium Gender and Health: Bodily Modification in Medicine. Linköping University. May 21, 2012.

• “How pro-orgasm intentions in anti-FGM campaigning backfire.” Poster presentation at the 20th World Congress for Sexual Health, Glasgow, June 12-16, 2011.

• “’The flow of her cum’: On a recent semantic shift in an erotic word.” Poster presentation at the 20th World Congress for Sexual Health, Glasgow, June 12-16, 2011.

• “The clitoral ‘nicking’ in public discourse: What have gender and colour of skin got to do with it?” Paper presented at the conference Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting within the EU. Coventry, UK, Nov 10, 2010.

• “Cultural aspects of mental ill-health: Examples from the Somali group in Sweden.” Paper presented at the XXXIst International Congress on Law and Mental Health, New York University Law School, June 28-July 3, 2009.


• "How pro-orgasm intentions in anti-FGM campaigns backfire." Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, San Fransisco CA, Nov 19-23, 2008. Invited session: Female Circumcision and the Orgasm Puzzle.

• "Popular explanatory models of FGC affecting real people’s lives: The case of Ali Elmi Hayow in Sweden." Paper presented at The 4th FOKO Conference in Helsinki, 7-8 September 2007.

• "Medical statements politicized: The case of procedures involving the clitoris." Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Antropological Association, San José CA, Nov 15-19, 2006. Invited session: Female and Male Genital Surgeries: Critical Intersections/Astonishing Issues.

• "Swedish Somali Children Dumped? On Families, Parents, and Children in a Transnational Context." Paper presented at the conference The Double Heritage of Democracy, Helsinki, 11-14 May 2006.

• "Female Genital Cutting among immigrants in European countries: Are risk estimates reasonable?" Paper presented at the conference Mutilazioni Genitali Femminili in Europa, Rome, 10-11 December 2004.

• "Sexual health among young Somali women in Sweden: Living with conflicting culturally determined sexual ideologies." Johnsdotter S, Essén B. Paper presented at the conference Advancing Knowledge on Psycho-Sexual Effects of FGM/C: Assessing the Evidence. Alexandria, Egypt. October 10-12, 2004.

• "Are violations of the law on female genital mutilation more frequent in Sweden among Swedes than Somalis?" Paper presented at the IMER-conference, Norrköping, 20-22 November 2002.

• "The alleged practice of female circumcision: The political exploitation of Somalis in exile." Paper presented at FOKO’s workshop in Oslo, October 12-14, 2001.

• "The pros and cons of female circumcision: The views of Swedish Somalis." Paper presented at the NorFa workshop on Reproductive Health Research ’Sexual and Reproductive Health Research’, Rute, Gotland, August 23-27, 2000.



Johnsdotter S, Essén B (2017). "UK FGM parties hoax reached Sweden." Published on the blog Shifting Sands: Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting Matters. Read

Johnsdotter S, Essén B (2008). “The Hazards of Politically Correct Research.” Published on The New York Time's research blog. Read


Research projects


An intervention to change attitudes towards female circumcision among the Somali-Swedish community: a clusterrandomised controlled trial
Studien leds av professor Birgitta Essén, IMCH, UU. Finansierad av Forte och VR.  

FGM: Law and practice. Policy needs and background.
Studien utförs i samarbete med professor i juridik Ruth Mestre i Mestre, University of Valencia. På uppdrag av European Commission, Unit D2: Gender Equality. Download report

Genitals and Gender: The Politics of Genital Modifications
Financed by the Swedish Research Council. In collaboration with Dr Birgitta Essén, Uppsala University. Read more 

Towards an improved enforcement of FGM legislation in Europe: Dissemination of lessons learned and capacity building of actors in legal and para-legal fields
Financed by the EC Daphne programme. Monitored by ICHR, Ghent University. Including researchers from Spain, Belgium, France, Sweden and the UK.

When sexual experiences are politicized: Female circumcision and sexual ideologies
Post doc project financed by Malmö University.

Transnationalism and Integration: The Global Clan Structure of Swedish Somalis
With Asha Omar. Financed by the Swedish Research Council. Project of the Month in January 2008 at the Swedish Research Council.

Evaluating the impact of existing legislation in Europe with regard to female genital mutilation
Financed by the EC Daphne programme. Monitored by ICHR, Ghent University. Including researchers from Spain, Belgium, France, Sweden and the UK.

Misure preventive dirette a combattere la violenza contro i bambini, gli adolescenti e le donne
Financed by the EC Daphne programme. Monitored by Comune di Roma, Italy. Including researchers from Spain, Sweden and Italy.

Senast uppdaterad av Sara Johnsdotter