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Female Circumcision

Female Circumcision: Multicultural Perspectives

Edited by Rogaia Mustafa Abusharaf
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Female Circumcision
    Book Description:

    Bolokoli, khifad, tahara, tahoor, qudiin, irua, bondo, kuruna, negekorsigin, and kene-kene are a few of the terms used in local African languages to denote a set of cultural practices collectively known as female circumcision. Practiced in many countries across Africa and Asia, this ritual is hotly debated. Supporters regard it as a central coming-of-age ritual that ensures chastity and promotes fertility. Human rights groups denounce the procedure as barbaric. It is estimated that between 100 million and 130 million girls and women today have undergone forms of this genital surgery. Female Circumcision gathers together African activists to examine the issue within its various cultural and historical contexts, the debates on circumcision regarding African refugee and immigrant populations in the United States, and the human rights efforts to eradicate the practice. This work brings African women's voices into the discussion, foregrounds indigenous processes of social and cultural change, and demonstrates the manifold linkages between respect for women's bodily integrity, the empowerment of women, and democratic modes of economic development. This volume does not focus narrowly on female circumcision as a set of ritualized surgeries sanctioned by society. Instead, the contributors explore a chain of connecting issues and processes through which the practice is being transformed in local and transnational contexts. The authors document shifts in local views to highlight processes of change and chronicle the efforts of diverse communities as agents in the process of cultural and social transformation.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0102-4
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Chapter 1 Introduction: The Custom in Question
    (pp. 1-24)
    Rogaia Mustafa Abusharaf

    Bolokoli, khifad, tahara, tahoor, qodiin, irua, bondo, kuruna, negekorsigin, and kene-kene are a few of the terms used in local African languages to denote a set of cultural practices collectively known as female circumcision. These practices, which are fervently adhered to by some ethnic and national groups, “are differentially embedded in specific institutional and social structures” (Kratz 1994: 346). In each context, there is marked variation in prevalence, in the type of surgery performed, and in the rituals associated with it. Even within the same geographic locality, the nature of the practice, its justifications, and the age at which it...

  4. Part I: Local Contexts and Current Debates

    • Chapter 2 “Had This Been Your Face, Would You Leave It as Is?” Female Circumcision Among the Nubians of Egypt
      (pp. 27-46)
      Fadwa El Guindi

      An Egyptian woman with whom I was having a conversation about female circumcision asked me pointedly: “had this [referring to the female genitalia] been your face, would you leave it as is?” This question was startling; I had not previously connected a woman’s genitalia with her face. Her remark implies an analogy that raises a host of questions about the cultural meanings of female circumcision. It suggests that female circumcision is a cosmetic procedure for beautification, with the implication that it enhances female sexuality. The significance of the comment lies in the notion that the appearance of two distinct parts...

    • Chapter 3 Male and Female Circumcision: The Myth of the Difference
      (pp. 47-72)
      Sami A. Aldeeb Abu-Sahlieh

      International and national organizations working to abolish female circumcision generally assume that male and female circumcision are two distinct practices and that only female genital excision should be abolished. They base this distinction on the presupposition that male circumcision is founded on religious beliefs and confers health benefits, while asserting that female circumcision is not an essential part of any major religious tradition and has deleterious effects on health.

      Two examples illustrate this attitude. The seminar on traditional practices organized by the UN Commission on Human Rights in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on April 29–May 3, 1991, recommended that states...

  5. Part II: African Campaigns to Eradicate Female Circumcision

    • Chapter 4 Community-Based Efforts to End Female Genital Mutilation in Kenya: Raising Awareness and Organizing Alternative Rites of Passage
      (pp. 75-103)
      Asha Mohamud, Samson Radeny and Karin Ringheim

      Ending the harmful practice of female genital mutilation can be accomplished by concerted efforts at the grassroots level that involve the entire community. In Kenya, the women and girls who are most directly affected by the practice, with support from the men in their families and communities, have cooperated to eliminate cutting from rites of passage guiding young women into sexual maturity. Mobilizing support among educators and religious leaders and addressing those who perform the operation, national and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have offered resources and coordination to these grassroots campaigns. This essay explains what we have learned about the...

    • Chapter 5 A Community of Women Empowered: The Story of Deir El Barsha
      (pp. 104-124)
      Amal Abdel Hadi

      The community of Deir El Barsha, a Christian village in Egypt, discontinued the practice of female circumcision in 1992 without the intervention of policymakers, politicians, or medical experts. Village leaders and religious clerics, spurred by local women’s groups, made an agreement with midwives, traditional birth attendants, and hygienic barbers to declare their commitment to abstain from the practice and to advise other people to abandon it. In this document, Deir El Barsha’s leaders and traditional circumcisers announced:

      Having elucidated the harmful and pernicious effects of female circumcision, all the undersigned decided to refrain from performing this practice, and to strive...

    • Chapter 6 Strategies for Encouraging the Abandonment of Female Genital Cutting: Experiences from Senegal, Burkina Faso, and Mali
      (pp. 125-141)
      Nafissatou J. Diop and Ian Askew

      What we call Female Genital Cutting (FGC) is prevalent in much of West Africa, and grassroots activists, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and national committees are working together to end it. This essay evaluates strategies employed to encourage the abandonment of FGC in three adjacent nation-states: Mali, Burkina Faso, and Senegal. The proportions of the population practicing FGC vary both between countries and within them. FGC is almost universal (92 percent) in Mali (CPS/MS, DNSI, and Macro International 2002), and it is widespread (72 percent) in much of Burkina Faso (INSD and Macro International 2000). In Senegal, where the national prevalence rate...

    • Chapter 7 The Sudanese National Committee on the Eradication of Harmful Traditional Practices and the Campaign Against Female Genital Mutilation
      (pp. 142-170)
      Hamid El Bashir

      The Sudanese feminist movement has not launched an explicit campaign against female genital mutilation. Until the 1970s, the movement was overwhelmingly concerned with the achievement of basic economic and political rights. During the 1980s, however, the feminist movement turned to combating cultural prejudices and practices harmful to women, including female genital mutilation (FGM).

      The first campaign against female circumcision in the Sudan occurred during the late eighteenth century under the Sinnar Sultanate, well before the formal incorporation of Sudan into the Ottoman Empire in 1821. That movement was believed to be initiated and supported by the holy religious Sheikh, Hassan...

    • Chapter 8 The Babiker Badri Scientific Association for Women’s Studies and the Eradication of Female Circumcision in the Sudan
      (pp. 171-186)
      Shahira Ahmed

      Throughout much of northern Sudanese history, female circumcision remained a taboo subject that was not addressed publicly. It was a ritual performed by women on women, and for a long time it was hard for local communities to fathom why certain groups campaigned to abolish it. This traditional rite, passed on with pride from generation to generation, uplifted the status of the circumcised girl to a respectable, marriageable woman, and the event was conducted with much fanfare and honor. The first serious waves of resistance began at the turn of the twentieth century when a few religious leaders and politicians,...

    • Chapter 9 “My Grandmother Called It the Three Feminine Sorrows”: The Struggle of Women Against Female Circumcision in Somalia
      (pp. 187-204)
      Raqiya D. Abdalla

      “My Grandmother Called It the Three Feminine Sorrows” won first prize in a poetry competition for women from the Benadir region during the International Seminar on female circumcision (FC) held in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1988. Dahabo Musa’s poem captures the effects of circumcision on the mental as well as physical well-being of girls and women. Musa laments that, for those who are forced to endure it, the age-old tradition robs them of a carefree youth, deprives them of pleasure on their wedding night, and even denies them the experience of spiritual joy and wonderment at the miracle of childbirth. Their...

  6. Part III: Debates in Immigrant-Receiving Societies

    • Chapter 10 The Double-Edged Sword: Using the Criminal Law Against Female Genital Mutilation in Canada
      (pp. 207-223)
      Audrey Macklin

      The question that preoccupies most Western academics when they address female genital mutilation (FGM) is whether the national or international community should tolerate the practice. Yet the salient issue for most human rights activists working from within the communities where FGM has been prevalent is not whether, but how, to eradicate the practice. This problem has attracted less interest among Western academics, legal scholars, and feminist intellectuals. It poses both practical and theoretical challenges, because any strategy depends for success on its ability to harmonize with the social, political, legal, and cultural formations in which it is deployed.

      This essay...

    • Chapter 11 Representing Africa in the Kasinga Asylum Case
      (pp. 224-233)
      Charles Piot

      This essay focuses on the landmark 1996 case in which Fauziya Kasinga (Kassindja¹), a Togolese woman, sought and won political asylum in the United States in order to escape genital cutting and forced marriage in Africa. The arguments advanced by the lawyers involved in the Kasinga case and the images in the media reporting on it circulated widely and came to define much more than Kasinga’s travails or the practice of female genital cutting itself. Like Robert Kaplan’s demonizing piece in the February 1994 Atlantic Monthly, “The Coming Anarchy;” they evoked and inserted themselves into a genealogy of racist stereotypes...

    • Afterword: Safe Harbor and Homage
      (pp. 234-242)
      L. Amede Obiora

      In an autobiographical interview, Africa’s first published female novelist described this intriguing case of subversion.¹ Although this incident transpired during the 1940s, it shares some parallels with the process of change that is taking place in coming-of-age rituals for girls and young women in Africa today, and vividly underscores the complex dynamics of a society in transition.

      A more recent experience in Oguta, the community in southeastern Nigeria where this incident took place, illuminates the possibilities for change that inhere in culture. Apparently, members of the community used to incur inordinate expenses to underwrite funeral rites. Both the state and...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 243-252)
  8. List of References
    (pp. 253-272)
  9. List of Contributors
    (pp. 273-278)
  10. Index
    (pp. 279-288)
  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 289-289)