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The Female Circumcision Controversy: An Anthropological Perspective



The Female Circumcision Controversy: An Anthropological Perspective. Ellen Gruenbaum. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001. 242 pp.
652 American Anthropologist Vol. 105, No. 3 September 2003
experiences of different kinds of
in developing his
connections between what has changed in such practices,
what has been introduced from outsiders, and changes in
mythological contents. Gow addresses an important matter:
why some myths, recorded before the time of his own re-
search, seem to have been forgotten by his interlocutors,
only partially remembered, or changed in significant ways.
He asks, "Why are myths told?," "Why do myths change?,"
"Why are myths forgotten?," "What does the 'death of
myth' mean?" Arguing that Piro myths are already trans-
forming before the transformations recorded in written col-
lections, the author engages in an analysis of semiotic trans-
formations between myths. That one particular story has
undergone prior (i.e., precollection) transformations can be
known by looking at how certain semiotic elements ("mo-
appear in other stories, both those told by people in
the same society, and yet others told elsewhere. Gow thus
attempts an application of Levi-Strauss's theory of myths as
"instruments for the obliteration of time" while updating
the structuralist program of understanding how myths
think themselves out through people of a certain region,
how semiotic structures in myths change as "systems
of thought" change. Gow's analysis looks at this problem
from a field research perspective among Piro people, which
involves learning about communicative contacts between
people of different language groups and different kinds of
in the Bajo Urubamba, the maintenance of local dif-
ferences in the face of such contacts, and the nature (type,
performance, and contexts) of genres through which such
contacts were made.
Focusing on eight myths recorded at various times in Piro
history (including some told directly to him), Gow's an-
swers revolve around Levi-Strauss's idea that mythic narra-
tives manifest analogies between "new problems" or "ques-
that emerge through historical events, and old
problems. In Piro people's experiences, these
"questions" appeared as new contacts with new kinds of
people, motivating incidents of what he interprets to have
been strategic thinking by known individuals. Gow explores
the implications of several larger historical contexts, begin-
ning with an examination of the conditions of Piro enslave-
ment during the rubber boom era by gringos, for whom
they had willingly gone to work in order to receive Euro-
pean goods. After the appearance of "a new kind of gringo"
associated with evangelical Christianity, Piro came under
the tutelage of the
missionary Esther Matteson, began to
learn how to write, and gave up manioc beer (and with the
Adventists, the peccary meat so important to their diet).
Later, the appearance of Werner Herzog's European crew
filming the rubber-boom era story
(and Campa
people fleeing the work organized by that crew) was shortly
followed by Peter Gow's own appearance in the Bajo
Urubamba—a gringo anthropologist who could understand
some Piro and who had had a hallucinogenic experience,
but who mainly spoke Peruvian Spanish. While Piro under-
stood him to be a sympathetic person involved in learning
about their way of life, they also equated him with the
cara, cannibalistic strangers (especially gringos) who were
said to prey on local people (as they in turn had preyed
upon the white lipped peccaries).
As Gow notes his study would have achieved little if he
had only concluded that what Piro people have done, his-
torically, is to react as European colonial expansion pro-
ceeded to impinge upon their
Instead Gow argues, it is
necessary to demonstrate that the specific form of succes-
sive colonial situations arose from within the ways Piro peo-
ple set about constituting them. He writes, "I think that
myths are themselves historical products, and ones which
carry within themselves t h e traces of that which they seek t o
erase, their own former states" (p. 303). In fact, while using
Levi-Straussian language in which myths operate through a
logic of their own, his is a model of discursive production
within a complex dialogical context. Gow
braving the dif-
ficulties of trying to understand subjective experiences such
as an individual's reformulation of personal goals, halluci-
natory experiences, and philosophical complexities of Piro
understanding, but in the end we have an argument built
on considerable deductive reasoning from many hypotheti-
cal positions and "logical" connections, as well as t he use
Peruvian Spanish. The logic
Western logic, not necessarily
Piro logic. The translations we are given, to this reviewer's
ear, are summarized prose translations of what (if the Piro
are like other Amazonian people) could have been formally
structured (and in that
"poetic") oral performances in
The argument proceeds too often through a "literal"
reading of the texts as they have been told to Gow or put
into written form by hi s missionary predecessors.
I conclude simply with a question about what has been
left out. What more would we know if more attention had
been paid to language? Gow's questions regarding how
myths change, and die out, are central to understanding
them, but the problems must also be addressed through the
methods of a kind of anthropology that, the author himself
admits, has been unsympathetic to Levi-Strauss.
The Female Circumcision Controversy: An Anthropo-
logical Perspective. Ellen Gruenbaum. Philadelphia: Uni-
versity of Pennsylvania Press,
242 pp.
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
If rebutting ethnocentrism, embracing cultural relativism,
and advocating for social justice constitute the three legs of
the conceptual triangle that define the intellectual territory
covered by much of contemporary cultural anthropology,
then female genitals operations (FGOs) represent a dramatic
challenge to the subdiscipline. How can we simultaneously
avoid the dreaded accusation of ethnocentrism, uphold the
long-vaunted ideals of cultural relativism, and still promote
the elusive goals of gender equality (a component of the
quest for social justice) when faced with biomedically un-
necessary surgical procedures performed on girls who are
Book Reviews 653
not always willing, and who may later suffer severe medical
damage, psychological damage, or both, from the opera-
tions that are now performed in a variety of world commu-
nities from Africa
increasingly, Europe and North America?
further complicating factor arises when some members of
the local communities practicing FGOs begin to press for
modification or even elimination of the often ritualized sur-
gery while other members of the same communitiesusu-
ally a hefty majorityremain fervent supporters. Can an-
thropologists responsibly navigate the difficult theoretical
terrain and vexed ethnographic realities alike that charac-
terize this painful subject? Cultural anthropologist Ellen
Gruenbaum proves
wise guide to the troubling topic.
Gruenbaum offers intelligent discussion of the major is-
sues involved in the FGO controversy: religion, sexuality,
marriage, health ramifications, legal status, and social
change. In the course of conducting over five years' research
and residence in the Sudan between 1974 and 1992, Gruen-
baum achieved a high level of intimacy with many Suda-
nese women, enabling her to be an engaged listener and re-
port a variety of voices. She chronicles a gamut of reasons
for the surgeries, from Muslim piety to aesthetic preference
to enhancement of male sexual pleasure. Gruenbaum man-
ages to avoid passing easy judgments on such controversial
explanations while she still frankly acknowledges her hope
that the operations will eventually be eliminated.
Gruenbaum sagely emphasizes the existence of several
types of operations—ranging from a nick in the clitoris to
the complete cutting or excision of the clitoris, labia mi-
nora, and labia majora, accompanied by near-complete sew-
ing shut of the vulva. This discussion counterbalances the
simplistic discussion in popular writings that tend to reduce
both the methods and rationales of FGOs into single expla-
nations. The prevalent popular impression in the West is
that "Pharaonic circumcision" or infibulation—the most
extreme version of the surgeryis the only, or most wide-
spread, version, whereas it is in fact practiced by a minority
of populations who practice any sort of FGO, and in a re-
stricted region (Islamic northeast Africa). Moreover, Gruen-
baum points out that not all Muslims circumcise their
daughters, nor are all circumcising groups Muslim. Thus, al-
though most groups that Gruenbaum has studied in the Su-
dan are part of the Muslim zone in which infibulation is
common, Gruenbaum frequently reminds the reader that
these groups are not representative of all who perform
Above all, Gruenbaum insists that the women who per-
form the surgery, and their relatives who encourage them to
are honestly convinced that they are doing their girls
a serviceaugmenting their fertility, their sexual allure,
their marriageability, even their gynecological health. Re-
porting the sociocultural foundation to such beliefs while
resisting ridiculing them is an anthropological challenge to
which Gruenbaum nobly rises.
Illustrating the unexpected complexities that may arise,
Gruenbaum offers a nuanced discussion of the link between
patriarchy and severity of FGOs in comparing two neigh-
boring villages in Sudan. In one—populated by descendants
of an immigrant West African group related to the Song-
hay—women are strictly secluded, and girls are given only
perfunctory genital surgeries. In a nearby village—inhabited
by an autochthonous Arabic group—women work outside
in the fields and are somewhat free to travel, and their
daughters are subject to the severest form of infibulation.
Moreover, when some members of both groups moved into
a new village (to take advantage of an irrigation scheme),
the gendered labor and lifestyle differences between the two
groups lessened as some West African immigrant women
began working in the fields while some Arabic women be-
came more secluded. However, the preferences for their
FGO types remained largely intact in both groups. Fascinat-
ingly, as girls from the two groups encountered one another
on a daily basis, they sometimes insulted girls of the other
group for their genital operations. "Hey, unclean!" yelled
the Arabic
girls ,
to which the West African girls might reply:
"When you run out of meat [flesh cut from repeatedly rein-
fibulating a woman's genitals following each childbirth],
will yo u buy some in the market?" (pp. 130-131).
Elsewhere, willingness to change the local surgical style is
more evident. Perhaps surprisingly to the outsider, in some
ethnographic settings, residents have actually responded to
awareness of the controversy surrounding FGOs by increas-
ing, rather than decreasing, the numbers of women who are
infibulated. Often this results from contact with infibulat-
ing groups who more effectively tease their noninfibulating
neighbors; or it could be from polygynous men who marry
an infibulated woman, experience increased sexual pleas-
and persuade their noninfibulated wives to undergo the
surgery. Nevertheless, the greater trend is toward either con-
version from severe to milder forms of the surgery, or to-
ward eradication. Gruenbaum is optimistic that "the
conditions are ripe" (p. 194) for educational messages dis-
seminated with respect and cultural sensitivity about the
risks of
to be heard and heeded.
For all its virtues, the book has not developed certain
theoretical lines as fully and expansively as it might have. A
model of the cultural construction of risk, as advanced by
Mary Douglas and others, would be highly suitable to the
material in this book. Nor does Gruenbaum deploy the dis-
tinction that some cultural anthropologists have made in
recent years between intellectual and ethical relativisma
distinction that would have gone some way to provide theo-
retical foundation to the political stance that Gruenbaum
herself endorses without fully scrutinizing its intellectual
genealogy. That aside, the book is at once an excellent over-
view and a finely grained case study to a topic that consti-
tutes a veritable moral thicket. The volume would make a
provocative addition to an upper-level undergraduate course
on comparative gender issues, international women's health,
and the uses and limits of cultural relativism; cross-listed
courses in anthropology and women's studies would be par-
ticularly suitable; in a small seminar setting, even bright be-
ginning undergraduates would learn much. The writing is
clear and jargon-free, making it accessible to undergraduate
654 American Anthropologist Vol. 105, No. 3 September 2003
nonmajors and general readers. My theory-oriented cavils
above aside, the book is also rich enough to provide ample
food for thought for graduate students.
Anthropologists have been slow, even reluctant, to join in
the international debate regarding FGOs, no doubt hyper-
aware of the intellectual, ethical, and political hazards in-
volved in any position they might espouse. But th e past dec-
ade has seen a spate of articles and a small number of books
on the issue by anthropologists. Gruenbaum's fine volume
joins two excellent edited collections (Hernlund et al. in
Shell-Duncan and Hernlund 2000) in acknowledging
that there is indeed an important contribution to the grow-
ing international conversation about FGOs to be offered by
cultural anthropology.
Hernlund, Ylva, Fuambai Ahmadu, Bettina Shell-Duncan, and
Henrietta Moore, eds.
Female Genital Cutt ing i n th e
Challenge of a
Trans-Cultural Encounter.
University of California
Shell-Duncan, Bettina, and Ylva Hernlun d, eds.
2000 Female "Cir cum cis ion " in Afri ca: Culture, Controversy, and
Change. Boulder:
Archaeology and the Modern World: Colonial Tran-
scripts in South Africa and the Chesapeake. Martin Hall.
Routledg e, 2000. 218 pp.
Boston University
Postcolonial theory has h ad far less inf luen ce on the work
historical archaeologists than one might expect. Yet this
body of theory has the potential to affect the field pro-
foundly because the preponderance of work done by histori-
cal archaeologists focuses directly on colonial projects in a
wide array of settings around the world. This situation is es-
pecially true in North America, where the practitioners in
the field have repeatedly been urged to fall in behind one or
another unifying paradigm espoused by a prominent his-
torical archaeologist. In the 1970s the call was to the proces-
sualist camp; postprocessual influences on historical archae-
ology have come largely from the realm of critical theory
and the strong programmatic statements from some quar-
ters that historical archaeology is primarily about the study
of capitalism and how it shaped the modern and contempo-
rary world.
Martin Hall has taken on board the notion that historical
archaeology must attend to the impact of capitalism and the
emergence of the modern world, but he seeks in the present
book to examine the global reach of colonialism and its im-
pacts as the major force in the emergence of the modern
world. In so doing he draws from postcolonial theory, as
well as from the work of Michel Foucault and J a me s Scott, to
forge an approach that, he claims, links texts with material
Hall's aim is to develop a consistent theoretical approach
to understanding the material conditions that peoplf expe-
rienced under colonial regimes.
critical element of the dis-
courses of colonialism, one that Hall sees as key for compre-
hending the meanings of excavated remains and surviving
architecture and landscapes, is to be found in the accounts
written by contemporary observers. Such accounts, Hall
serve to translate experience into texts, which in turn
become material things. At the same time texts constitute
symbols of many things that, although important in the
past, cannot be observed directly in t h e present.
From Foucault, Hall takes the notion of "statements"
descriptions of the world that are subject to multiple inter-
pretations because they have shifting meanings and are rife
with ambiguity. This he folds into Scott's notion of "tran-
scripts," which are dialogues about power relations. Hall
sees the transcript as "a web of relations that entwine both
objects and words" (p. 16). He acknowledges that his tran-
scripts, interpolations of texts produced by people involved
in one way or another with colonial projects, form the basis
of his conception of historical archaeology. Transcripts exist
and operate at various levels. Some are public, overt state-
ments by those in power. Others are hidden, in the sense
that they originate with the powerless and often must be
drawn into view through a close examination of how subal-
terns resist authority and the power of those who would rule
over them. This ver sio n of historical archaeology
ciplinary, Hall notes, in that it draws its evidence from
sources that traditionally have not been used in combina-
tion (that is, the types of evidence employed by historians
versus those employed by archaeologists).
Because colonialism was imbedded in a particular eco-
nomic system and was a widespread global phenomenon
that had certain general characteristics of form, but that
nevertheless varied according to local contexts, Hall
th e
need for historical archaeologists to frame their work in
terms of global comparisons. He selects colonial South Af-
rica and the colonial Chesapeake as subjects because they
"shared an underlying set of economic imperatives" (p. 18),
noting that valid comparisons can be made only if one first
comprehends the local conditions under which colonialism
unfolded. The archaeologist must then tack back and forth
between consideration of the local and the global, attending
all the while to the dimensions of gender, race, and slavery
that loomed so large in colonial interactions.
In developing his transcripts, Hall looks closely at slavery,
architecture, town planning, and landscapes of the 17th-
and 18th-century Cape colony, comparing each with 18th-
century Chesapeake examples. His greatest concern, how-
ever, is to understand how the forms that slavery and colo-
nial regimes took in the Cape colony helped to bring about
the conditions one sees in present-day South Africa. He
writes vividly and compellingly about both historical devel-
opments and contemporary conditions in South Africa. The
English colony in the Chesapeake serves primarily as a
sounding board against which Hall tests his reconstructed
transcripts of colonial discourse in South Africa.
... (Pasquinelli, 2000, 2007). C'è un'ampia letteratura ed un dibattito in corso tra gli studiosi sul significato delle mutilazioni genitali; l'approccio antropologico tende ad interpretare l'importanza culturale della pratica in quanto evento che sancisce la transizione dall'infanzia all'essere donna, che rappresenta per le bambine un passaggio fondamentale verso l'acquisizione di nuovi diritti e responsabilità di donna adulta, principalmente quelle legate alle relazioni sessuali, al matrimonio e alla riproduzione (Gruenbaum, 2001; Shell-Duncan, 2000, Mazzetti, 2000). Queste pratiche sono profondamente intrecciate con l'identità etnica, e si trasformano nell'ambito dei diversi contesti politici e socio-culturali dei paesi africani, come pure tra le comunità di immigrati nei paesi occidentali. ...
... There is a vast amount of literature and an ongoing controversy among scholars about female genital mutilation or cutting. Most anthropological sources (Gruenbaum, 2001; Shell- Duncan, 2000, Mazzetti, 2000) agree that the cultural significance of these practices represents the transition from girlhood to womanhood, emblemizing a fundamental passage into new adult rights and responsibilities, the most important of which relate to sexual relations, marriage, and childbearing. These practices are deeply entwined with ethnic identity, and undergo changes within political and socio-cultural contexts in African countries, as well among migrant communities in Western countries. ...
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Sommario In questo articolo vengono riportati i principali risulta-ti di un'indagine locale svolta all'interno del progetto Stop-Mgf che si proponeva di misurare la conoscenza, gli at-teggiamenti, gli stereotipi e le esperienze dirette sul fenomeno delle Mutilazioni Genitali Femminili o Cutting (MGF/C) tra gli operatori sanitari e sociali che operano nella Regio-ne Lazio. I dati sono analizzati affiancando ai risultati del-l'analisi descrittiva a quelli derivanti dall'applicazione di tec-niche di analisi multidimensionale. Ciò ha portato alla iden-tificazione di quattro profili-tipo di intervistato/a. I risultati ottenuti possono essere utili non solo per l'implementazio-ne di politiche di contrasto e prevenzione delle MGF/C, ma anche per la predisposizione di iniziative rivolte alla for-mazione dei professionisti. Parole chiave: Mutilazioni Genitali Femminili/Cutting (MGF/C), opinioni, operatori sociali e sanitari, Italia, vio-lenza di genere. Introduzione Per Mutilazioni Genitali Femminili o Cutting (MGF/C) si intendono (così come definito da WHO, UNICEF e UNFPA) "tutte le procedure che comportano la rimozione parziale o totale dei genitali esterni femminili o altri in-terventi dannosi sugli organi genitali femminili tanto per ragioni culturali che per altre ragioni non terapeutiche" (WHO/UNICEF/UNFPA, 1997). Le MGF/C rappre-sentano, così come riconosciuto a livello internazionale, una violazione dei diritti umani delle donne e delle bam-bine fin dal 1979, quando furono considerate nella Con-venzione per l'eliminazione di tutte le forme di discrimi-nazione contro le donne (CEDAW, 1979) e dieci anni dopo nella Convenzione per i diritti dei bambini (CRC, 1989). La dimensione dei diritti umani delle MGF/C è stata suc-cessivamente rafforzata in una serie di conferenze inter-nazionali, a partire dalla Conferenza mondiale delle Na-zioni Unite sui diritti umani di Vienna, Austria (1993); la Conferenza internazionale su popolazione e sviluppo al Cai-ro, Egitto (1994); la quarta Conferenza mondiale sulle don-ne a Pechino in Cina (1995); così come nei relativi follow-up Pechino +5 e Pechino +10 tenutisi rispettivamente nel 2000 e nel 2005 a New York, USA. In particolare la Quar-ta Conferenza mondiale sulle donne (UN,1996) ha mes-so in evidenza come le MGF/C riflettano una profonda dis-eguaglianza tra i sessi, e costituiscano una forma estrema di discriminazione contro le donne e una violazione dei di-ritti dei bambini. Le MGF/C sono una pratica tradizionale profonda-mente radicata nella cultura e nell'organizzazione socia-le di alcune comunità che vivono nelle regioni occidentali, orientali e nordorientali dell'Africa, in alcune regioni del-l'Asia e del Medio Oriente. Le MGF/C sono anche pra-ticate da alcune comunità immigrate in Nord America ed Europa. Il WHO ha stimato che nel mondo le donne e le bambine che vivono con le conseguenze delle MGF/C sia-no dai 100 ai 140 milioni e che 3 milioni di minori sono
The practice of excision in girls poses a significant risk to their health. The objective of this study was to determine the immediate acute complications associated with this practice. Patients and methods This was a retrospective descriptive study over a period of 15 months including all girls aged 0–15 years hospitalized for acute complications related to excision within 7 days of the practice in the pediatric department of the University Hospital Gabriel Toure. Results We collected 17 patient files. The median consultation time was 43 h. The main reason for consultation was post-excision bleeding in 76.4% of the cases. Pallor associated with respiratory distress was found in almost all cases. On admission, four girls (23.5%) were comatose and five girls (29.4%) showed signs of shock. The reasons for hospitalization were hemorrhage associated with post-excisional sepsis (52.9%), complicated shock anemia (23.5%), and severe post-excision anemia (23.5%). The average hemoglobin level was 5.5 g/dL; there was severe anemia in 94.1% of the girls (Hb <7g/dl). All the girls received blood transfusions with red blood cell concentrate. The other treatments received were local care (100%), administration of analgesics (100%), antibiotic therapy (82.4%), and oxygen therapy (41.2%). The outcome was unfavorable in two patients (11.8% deaths). Conclusion This study shows the seriousness of the immediate complications associated with the practice of excision.
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Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a term used to incorporate a wide range of traditional practices. It involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for cultural reasons in many African countries. This study addresses this practice by looking at the differ-ent beliefs and experiences of Somali women living in a city x in Sweden, as immigrants. Looking at these women flashbacks, circumstances before, and later consequences, their cul-tural beliefs, religious views, as well as perspectives from human rights constitute the material to study these cases. This study also addresses the perception of this practice and looks at dif-ferent efforts by the community based organizations and government of Sweden to eliminate this traditional among African women in city x. This study was conducted in a district among some African women focusing especially on those coming from Ethiopia and Somalia. Thematic Interviews are the foundation of this re-search. These conducted interviews follow an individually prepared set of questions. The in-terviewed group was identified on voluntary basis and consisted of eight Somali women who live in city x in Sweden. The study consists of qualitative methods including individual inter-views and literature review. The research result indicated that female genital mutilation has spread out to other parts of the world through immigration in pursuit of better living standards and showed that the continua-tion of FGM tradition in new generations was not necessary and the overall result of the study was very straight forward: FGM should be eradicated and abolished from the tradition. This research focuses on consequences reveled during the research, including physical, psycholog-ical, social, and sexual effects. One conclusion, even in cross-cultural contexts, is that female genital mutilation is violence against women and children and is a criminal offence according to Swedish and international legislation, because of pain, violation of human and children rights and risks for women and girls. Best ways to eradicate this tradition, according to the interviewees and according to results of many researches that already discuss about FGM, are community based awareness raising programs that are accessible by everybody. Keywords: Female genital mutilation, Human rights, Consequences, Somali women, Sweden.
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Female genital circumcision is a procedure that requires the excision of some tissues that form the female genitalia. It is an old tradition that exists predominantly in Africa, and has, of late, become a very contentious and controversial issue in the international community. There are various grounds for this controversy, one of which is the contention by rights advocates that female circumcision is gratuitous violence against women in the form genital mutilation, and should be abolished. Cultural relativists counter that female circumcision is a traditional ritual that defines cultural identity, and hence outside the competence of international bodies with Western liberal sensibilities. This work examines female genital circumcision as practiced in Africa, and its legitimacy within the context of modern human rights regime. My method of inquiry consists of a thematic analysis of this practice as it touches on United Nations’ conventions, and an ethnographic approach that seeks meaning through interpretation of cultural observances. My thesis adopts the position that female genital circumcision is a dangerous practice that violates accepted precepts of international human rights. But since no single factor can fully explain its practice and prevalence, a successful challenge would necessarily be multifaceted, and at the same time mindful that any effort to enforce internationally recognized rights may come in conflict with other equally important rights, such as those of religion and cultural minorities. Thus, national governments have a duty to carefully balance other sets of important rights against the need to protect fundamental human rights of girls and women.
Walker has endeavoured to develop a very critical and comprehensive view to project loathsome traditions which torture and mutilate not only the body but also the soul of black women. Thematic dimensions in Walker's fiction deal with an extremely scandalous social issue that restricts the flourishing growth of tender girls beyond human imagination. Walker has attempted to draw reader's attention in all her writings to the horrendous functioning of circumcision. Walker calls for a war against such heinous customs and raises voice for empowerment of women and their quest for growth and fulfilment.
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No one, neither speculative philosopher nor empirical anthropologist, has ever shown human rights to be anything other than a culturally particular social construction. If human rights are not natural, divine, or metaphysical, then they can only be a social construction of particular cultures. If so, then many cultures may justifiably reject them as culturally foreign and hence without local normative validity. In response to this conclusion I develop a cognitive approach to any local culture - a cognitive approach in distinction to a normative one. It allows for advancing human rights as rights internal to any given community's culture. Human rights can be advanced internally by means of “cognitive re-framing,” a notion I develop out of Erving Goffman's theory of frame analysis. I deploy it in two examples: female genital mutilation in Africa and child prostitution in Asia.
Special Series on Social Norms and Harmful Practices The essay refines the application of the social convention theory to the practice female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). The theory compares footbinding in China to FGM/C in Africa, explains each practice in terms of simple game theory, and recommends that the methods used to end footbinding be adapted to end FGM/C. It hypothesizes that each practice originated in highly stratified ancient empires, and became an ongoing requirement of marriageability, general and persistent within the intramarrying community because no one family can give it up on its own.
Female Genital Mutilation/cutting/circumcision (FGM/C) are terms used to incorporate a wide range of traditional practices that involve the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia basically for traditional and cultural reasons in mostly African societies. This study addresses the perceptions of this practice and looks at different efforts by the Community Based Organisations and Government to eliminate this tradtional practice among the Sabiny people of Kapchorwa District in the Republic of Uganda. This study was conducted in Kapchorwa among selected Sabiny people and organisations working to eliminate the practice. In executing this study, both qualitative and quantitaive methods were used. Qualitative methods used included individual interviews; key informant interviews; telephone interviews and focus group discussions. Secondary data was also used in this study. The findings revealed that there are divided opinions about female genital cutting among the Sabiny. There are those who are in favour of the practice, while others are against the practice. The assumed consequences of performing the practice or not performing it play a big role on the different perceptions held by the people. A big segment of the local community, together with the Uganda Government is involved in efforts to bring about change in the community by eliminating the tradition. This thesis indicates that perceptions held by those who are in favour of the practice are based on a number of motivating factors, tradition topping the list. There are various efforts that are being employed by the local community as well as Government to eliminate the traditon in Kapchorwa. As a result of these efforts, ther has been a change in the community; however this does not yet mean that the tradition has been eliminated.
As women who are sub-fertile, infertile or whose children have died, kanyalengs play a special role at public gatherings and celebrations as performers in The Gambia. The collective activities of kanyalengs speak to the hardships that are associated with the inability to meet cultural expectations for a sufficiently large family They traditionally take the form of bold song and dance performances which enable kanyalengs to shame themselves before Allah in hopes that their outrageous behavior will convince divine will to take pity and make them fertile or allow their children to survive. Drawing on data from interviews, participant observation and archival research conducted in Gambia over an eight month period in 2004, this dissertation considers the reproductive concerns of kanyalengs in the context of marriage and kinship as well as their micro political-economic interests in creating and maintaining an appropriately large family. It investigates Gambian women's explanations of and responses to reproductive disruptions including various healing modalities as well as kanyaleng membership. Kanyaleng performances often reveal gender disparities in various aspects of Gambian life as well as the burden of successful reproduction that lies squarely on women's shoulders. However, this dissertation argues that the goal of kanyaleng yaa ("being a kanyaleng") is not to permanently transform reproductive expectations, but to ultimately fulfill them. Kanyaleng yaa operates both as an individual identity and as an expression of group solidarity, with members working together to attain their personal and collective goals, reproductive and otherwise, through ritual and work. Increasingly, the lines between these two categories of action have become blurred with kanyalengs' entrée into development work as "traditional communicators." This dissertation examines how kanyalengs' concerns correspond to or conflict with the reproductive health agendas that national and international agents have set for Gambian women and asserts that new opportunities for kanyalengs in development present chances to parlay their liminal status into social and economic advantages. Further, it explores the unique way in which kanyalengs are engaged with the dissemination of messages as development educators that may ultimately be at odds with what they perceive to be their best reproductive interests.
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The paper explores the ethical aspects of introducing cultural circumcision of children into the EU public health system. We reject commonplace arguments against circumcision: considerations of good medical practice, justice, bodily integrity, autonomy and the analogy from female genital mutilation. From the unique structure of patient-medicine interaction, we argue that the incorporation of cultural circumcision into EU public health services is a kind of medicalization, which does not fit the ethos of universal healthcare. However, we support a utilitarian argument that finds hospital-based circumcision safer than non-medicalized alternatives. The argument concerning medicalization and the utilitarian argument both rely on preliminary empirical data, which depend on future validation.
In press Female Genital Cutting in the World: The Challenge of a Trans-Cultural Encounter
  • Ylva Hernlund
  • Fuambai Ahmadu
  • Bettina Shell-Duncan
  • Henrietta Moore
Hernlund, Ylva, Fuambai Ahmadu, Bettina Shell-Duncan, and Henrietta Moore, eds. In press Female Genital Cutting in the World: The Challenge of a Trans-Cultural Encounter. Berkeley: University of California Press.