The Politics of Knowledge on African Sexualities and its Effect on Women's Health. A Case of the Sabiny Female Genital Mutilation

Thesis (M.A.) 2015 118 Pages

Women Studies / Gender Studies







1.1. Introduction
1.2. Background to the Study
1.3. Statement of the Problem
1.4. The Purpose of the Study
1.5. Critical Questions
1.6. Research Objectives
1.7. Significance of the Study
1.8. Theoretical Framework
1.9. Methodological Approach
1.10. Outline of the Study
1.11. Chapter Summary

2.1. Introduction
2.2. Understanding African Sexualities
2.2.1. African Feminism and Sexualities
2.2.2. The Western Perspective on Understanding African Sexualities
2.2.3. Viewing African Sexualities through the Lens of Women’s Subordination
2.3. The Debates on African Sexualities from an African Perspective
2.3.1. Challenging a Distinct and Fixed African Sexuality
2.3.2. An African Response to a Religious Based Notion of Liberation
2.4. Interrogating the Notion of Silence and Symbolism
2.4.1. Mediation of Sexuality through Language and Gender
2.5. Chapter Summary

3.1. Introduction
3.2. The Location of Uganda
3.3. Locating Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health in Ugandan Society
3.4. The Sabiny People of Uganda
3.4.1. The Sabiny and the Practice of Wonsetap Koruk/Wonsho 50
3.4.2. The Sabiny Understanding of Female Genital Circumcision
3.5. Understanding Female Genital Mutilation from the Global Perspective
3.5.1. The Concept of Female Genital Circumcision/Mutilation
3.6. Chapter Summary

4.1. Introduction
4.2. Female Genital Circumcision as a Barbaric and Primitive Custom
4.3. Conceptualising ‘Normal’ Sexuality by a ‘Normal’ Body within Female Genital Circumcision Discourses
4.4. Politicising the ‘Cut’ and ‘Uncut’ Clitoris: Pleasure and the ‘Real’ Woman
4.4.1. The Power of Language and Naming: ‘Mutilation’ or ‘Other’?
4.5. Women’s Health and Empowerment: A Missed Point?
4.6. Unveiling the Limitations of Anti-Female Genital Circumcision Discourses
4.6.1. Female Genital Circumcision and the Constructed Silence
4.6.2. Contending the Limits of Women’s Health
4.6.3. The Clitoris as the Centre of Sexual Excitement
4.6.4. Sexual Satisfaction vs. Ignorance
4.6.5. Religio-Cultural Influence
4.7. Chapter Summary

5.1. Introduction
5.2. Summary of the Research Study
5.2.1. Key Research Questions
5.2.2. Overview of Chapters
5.2.3. Overview of Argument
5.2.4. Theoretical Framework
5.2.5. The Value of the Study
5.2.6. Critical Findings of the Study
5.2.7. Limitations of the Study
5.3. Some Final Conclusions



I formally dedicate this dissertation to my mother Pherister Nabisubi, and to my sisters Leocardia, Fauster, Caroh, and Veronica. Together, they have played a crucial role in my life and in informing my experiences while writing this academic work.


I acknowledge most profoundly my Academic Supervisor, Dr. Lilian C. Siwila for accompanying me since I enrolled in the Gender, Religion and Health Programme of the School of Religion Philosophy and Classics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Her tireless motivation, advice and accompaniment have made it possible for me to accomplish this dissertation. It would have been far more difficult if she had not stood by me throughout my studies.

I wish to acknowledge Dr. Seedat Fatima, the Coordinator of the Gender, Religion and Health Programme for her advice and encouragement throughout the process of writing this dissertation. Her dedication to organise seminars and study cohorts for us as students has been of great benefit.

I also want to thank the Church of Sweden for granting me a student bursary that financed my enrolment into the Master’s Degree programme.

Last but not least, I want to acknowledge all the lecturers involved in the programme for their challenging advice, all of which has helped me bring this dissertation to its final completion.


The purpose of this study was to understand ‘What knowledge matters’, and ‘Whose knowledge matters in the study of African sexuality and in particular female genital circumcision. The Sabiny peoples of Uganda practice the tradition of wonsetap koruk or wosho as a rite of initiation for girls. This practice is elsewhere understood as female genital cutting, female genital circumcision or female genital mutilation. Discussions on African sexuality and female genital circumcision have taken either a Western perspective or an African point of view. Since the practice is understood differently, the values attached to it differ as a consequence of the wide range of opinions. In certain ways it is considered as a determinant of who has a normal sexuality or a normal body; distinguishes girls from women; confers true femininity as opposed to masculinity.

Amidst these discussions, the aspect of women’s health is peripheral and marginalized. Instead discussions seem to be limited by issues of language, naming, and standpoints by which various bodies of knowledge argue their different positions. Communication between the various sides of the debate is also minimal. Despite the claims that female genital circumcision is harmful to women’s health attempts to eradicate it are faced by resistances. Through an African feminist approach to the politics of knowledge on African sexualities, in this study I argue that the discourses on African sexualities and in particular those on female genital circumcision affect the understanding of women’s health. Second, the different approaches employed in the discussions of female genital circumcision evaluate the practice using different scales of values which affect the understanding of health through what they neglect or take for granted.

Key Terms: African Sexualities; Clitoris; Female Genital Circumcision; Female Genital Cutting; Female Genital Mutilation; Initiation; Politics of Knowledge; Primitivism; Sabiny; Sebei; Uganda; Women’s Health; Women’s Reproductive Health; Women’s Rights.


Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


1.1. Introduction

This study seeks to engage with the discourses on African sexualities with particular consideration given to Female Genital Circumcision (FGC) and how it affects the understanding of women’s health. Within this introductory chapter, I intend to provide a background to the study, a statement of the problem, as well as the purpose, significance and outline of the study. I will also present the theoretical framework and the methodological approach that I have used in the study. The findings of the study highlight the aspect of health with regard to FGC as a contestable phenomenon and the fact that the FGC debates seem to revolve around three critical devices, namely, voices, naming and language.

The discourses on African sexualities have taken two major approaches. The first approach has attempted to study African sexualities in relation to the assumed health complications and oppression of women. For example, Caldwell, Caldwell, and Quiggin attempted to study the “social context of AIDS in Southern Africa” (1989:185) as it related to African sexualities and its contribution to issues of health. Additionally, the perspective of the World Health Organisation (WHO) on practices such as FGC, labia minora elongation, considers such practices as detrimental to women’s health. A second major approach used in the academic discourse on African sexuality is one which attempts to critique the negative approaches on African sexualities and thereby reconstruct African sexualities perception from a positive perspective (Amadiume 2007; Nnaemeka 2005; Tamale 2006). For instance, even though WHO categorized the practice of Labia elongation as a type IV female genital mutilation Tamale’s (2006:95) findings indicate contrary. The elongated labia among the Baganda women “enhance the erotic experience of both male and femalemay be a source of immerse pleasure to the coupleself-identifier for the Baganda women-the stand of legitimacy for a ‘true’ muganda woman” (2006:95).

The implications of these two major approaches on African sexualities also differ. The negative approach that links African sexual practices with health complications and the subordination of women seems to imply that the understanding of sexuality in the context of African sexuality needs to be deconstructed and reconstructed according to the Western model of sexuality. This approach seems to argue that the subordination of women is perpetuated through the current state of African sexualities. On the other hand, an approach that promotes a positive perception of African sexualities seems equally to argue that African sexualities are celebrated and empowering and should be perceived within cultural contexts.

FGC has been approached contentiously within the discourses on African sexualities. The first discourse to be mentioned is described in terms of a medical and rights-based approach (Lightfoot-Klein 1989; Dirie & Lindmark 1992; Brady 1999; Starrings & Karugendo 2005; Oba 2008; Ahern-Flynn 2013). Dirie & Lindamark’s study (1992:480) revealed that “[t]he medical complications endured by the women are both immediate and late. Immediate complications are defined as complications directly following the operation. Late complications are those appearing after the primary healing of the circumcision”. Through this approach, FGC has been condemned and categorised in terms of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and thereby deemed a harmful practice to women’s health and sexual rights (Althaus 1997:130). Human rights movements have also initiated anti-FGM campaigns with the aim of eradicating its practice within African communities. In some anti-FGM discourses, the practice has been used to categorise practicing communities as primitive and ignorant of their health and sexual rights (Hosken 1993; Njambi 2004).

A second type of discourse can be categorised as a critical African feminist approach. Such discourse is mostly dominated by African feminists who approach the subject of FGC from a distinct African feminist perspective. Such an approach does not condone the practice but argues against the negative connotation given to FGC (Ahmadu 2000; Njambi 2004; Diallo 2004; Obiora 2005; Saadawi 2005; Nnaemeka 2005). Njambi (2004) for instance calls ‘Mutilation or female circumcision’ a western construct. She argues that the phrase itself “is troubling because it implies that cultural practices that involve female genital modifications in Africa have no unique histories and meanings of their own, outside of what is already understood in the west to be male circumcision” (2004: :282) . In particular, the approach critiques mainly the Western-constructed anti-FGM discourse that attempts to emphasise the barbaric and primitive nature of its practice and of its practitioners. Advocates of this approach attempt to associate anti-FGM discourse with issues of colonialism and the advent of messianic religions in which the colonial masters and religious missionaries attempted to undermine African religio-cultural and traditional values (Tamale 2008, 2013; Amadiume 2007). As such, this approach attempts to classify most Western anti-FGM discourses as being complicit with imperialism.

A third approach uses an identity-based approach. Through this approach, cultural gatekeepers promote and safeguard the practice from being eradicated (Goldschmidt 1976; Achieng 2010; Mafabi 2011; Matyichngony 2012; Kwagala, 2013). Significant to this approach is the process of naming. Accordingly, FGC is not understood as physical mutilation but instead is given other names depending on the experience of each particular group or community. In most communities it is called female circumcision and is viewed as a rite of passage through which a girl child enters adulthood. In other words, it separates a woman from a girl. Practitioners of FGC do not consider it as a practice intended to cause harm to their children or wives. For example among the Kono of Sierra Leone, “Excision or removal of the external clitoral glans and labia minora, in initiation is a symbolic representation of matriarchal power” (Shweder 2009:16). The practice is therefore seen as intended for the good of the person and the community at large (Goldschmidt 1976; Ahmadu 2000; Dellenborg 2004; Shweder 2009; Odeko 2014). As such, the gatekeepers of the practice perceive anti-FGM knowledge as a form of cultural imperialism that does not respect their religio-cultural indigenous knowledge and autonomy of identity. Debates seeking to discredit FGC and anti-FGM laws are thereby understood as attacks on the religio-cultural identity of practicing communities.

In what follows, the ongoing discourses of FGC and its impact of African sexualities will be explored in depth. In particular, I will attempt to establish how they affect the understanding of women’s health. The study will take consideration on how the politics of knowledge on African sexualities with regard to FGC is communicated through discourses, and what they seem to deliberately neglect or take one another for granted.

1.2. Background to the Study

The Sabiny people of Uganda, also known as the Sebei, practice FGC. Mostly, this is described in terms of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Among the Sabiny, this practice is known by various terms. For example, wonsetap koruk lit1: “ritual cutting” (Namulondo 2009:21) and wonsho lit: “chasing away” (Matyichngony 2012).2 As such, FGC is considered a rite of initiation among the Sabiny and is thereby located within the broader framework of religio-cultural African sexualities.

Scholars in African sexualities such as Amadiume (2007:1) have argued that “the practice of sexuality in Africa presents many difficulties to researchers and scholars due to the ambiguity of beliefs and attitudes in traditional cultures and religion.” Religio-cultural beliefs seem to present aspects of sexuality as norms regulated by cultural taboos. Furthermore, cultural beliefs seem to be constructed around what are considered harmful sexual practices that have the potential to affect women’s health (Boyden et al., 2012:3). For example, practices such as widow inheritance, sexual cleansing, ritual sex, female genital mutilation/circumcision and labia elongation have long been singled out as some of the practices that compromise women’s health.

The Sabiny of Uganda have been identified as one of the groups that practice FGC. In Uganda, the practice was outlawed in 2010. However, despite the commitment of the Ugandan Government and the efforts of various human rights organisations to eradicate the practice, women are still circumcised and those who refuse to undergo the ritual are discriminated in various ways. FGC practitioners among the Sabiny regard it as a sacred ritual and part of their religio-cultural identity. The practice is thus located within the Sabiny religio-cultural worldview. It involves beliefs and cultural myths and is described in terms of a demand by the ancestors. Although the criminalisation of the FGM and its sensitisation in Uganda has influenced some Sabiny people to reject the practice, elsewhere it has pushed the practice underground where girls and women are circumcised in secluded environments away from the possible reach of the local authorities.

Further to the critical analysis of the politics of knowledge of African sexualities provided by Nnaemeka (2005) and Tamale (2011), this study proposes an exploration of the politics of knowledge on African sexualities that focuses its attention on FGC among the Sabiny people of Uganda. In particular, it seeks to establish how the debates on African sexualities can contribute to the understanding of women’s health.

1.3. Statement of the Problem

Due to practices such as FGC, African sexualities seem to have been presented negatively and as hostile to women’s health and sexual freedom. This has generated a dualism of knowledge on the subject matter: the universal-moral outrage position3 (i.e., public domain) and the religio-cultural relativist (i.e., private domain) (Njambi 2004). While knowledge from the public domain has sought to ‘save’ the African women from the ‘inhuman’ practices of torture such as FGC rites, cultural relativists see such attempts as attacks on cultural identity and values. These discourses have politicised the subject of African sexualities and in particular FGC. The health of a woman who is directly affected by the practice of FGC seems to be pushed to the peripheral4 of these ‘politics of knowledge’ on African sexualities.

The surveyed literature has shown that the discourses on African sexualities have not only problematised the understanding of African sexualities but also FGC in particular. Therefore, it is within this context that this study seeks to explore how these discourses which seem to be an authority from their own point of view contribute to the discourses on women’s health.

1.4. The Purpose of the Study

This qualitative study engaged with the accessed discourses on African sexuality in relation to FGC in order to understand how their interplay affects the understanding on women’s health. The study was located within the discourses on African sexuality and in particular FGC in reference to the Sabiny people of Uganda. In this study, I purposely chose the Sabiny people of Uganda because among them the practice of FGC is still ongoing despite being recently outlawed under Ugandan law (Ddamulira 2012:139; Nalaaki 2014: iii; Namulondo:v). The body of African women feminists who have championed the same study from an insider’s perspective have challenged the way some scholars from outside Africa perceive, conceptualise and represent African sexualities and in particular, FGC.

In this study I argue that women’s health seems to be neglected by the debates for and against the perpetuation and the practice of FGC. Furthermore, the debates create more tension between the pro-FGC and the anti-FGC camps. The resultant created tensions seem to do little to respond to the aspect of women’s health.

In view therefore of the ongoing discourses on African sexualities the key research question this study intends to answer is as follows:

How does the Politics of knowledge on African Sexualities in relation to the Sabiny FGC initiation rite contribute to the discourses on women’s health?

1.5. Critical Questions

In view of the main research question, this study asks the following three critical sub-questions:

i. What is the notion of African sexualities?
ii. How does the understanding of FGC rite of initiation contribute to empowering or disempowering discourses on women’s health?
iii. What religious, cultural and health resources within the Sabiny FGC rite of initiation that can be used in educating Sabiny girl-children on issues such as reproductive health, hygiene, self-worth and womanhood?

1.6. Research Objectives

This study seeks to achieve the following objectives:

i. To explore the complexities of African sexualities.
ii. To establish how the understanding of the FGC rite of initiation contributes to empowering or disempowering discourses on women’s health?
iii. To establish what religious, cultural and health resources exist within the Sabiny FGC rite of initiation and how these may be used to educate Sabiny girls on issues such as reproductive health, hygiene, self-worth and womanhood.

1.7. Significance of the Study

This study hopes to inspire new critical theories and discourses on how African sexualities are constructed and how they may engage with each other. The knowledge developed by this study may be useful to human rights activists, local and international organisations, and the religion-based organisations which attempt to eradicate harmful sexual practices. In an attempt to eradicate these practices, as the study will in detail discuss, the aspects of language and communication will be seen as critical. The study may be useful in the sense that it challenges the tendencies of deliberately making assumptions about FGC and being critical on what is taken for granted.

1.8. Theoretical Framework

The study is located within the African feminist paradigm in its approach to African sexualities. This is because most scholars who have responded to Western voices on African sexualities have been African feminists. As a result, the theoretical framework of this study will be an African feminist approach to the politics of knowledge on African sexualities as understood by Nnaemeka (2005) and Tamale (2008, 2011). In particular, the study will use the concepts and perceptions of Nnaemeka and Tamale with regard to African sexualities and FGC. Various opinions in the form of knowledge and the different understandings of African sexualities exhibits power dimensions of those whose knowledge is most significant. These power dimensions in terms of the forms of knowledge were categorised in this work to constitute what is referred to as the politics of knowledge on African sexualities. In his argument on the concept of the politics of knowledge, Weiler (2009:1-2) argues that:

The process of transformation that the notion of knowledge has undergone in our time has had a lasting influence on our understanding of how knowledge is created, distributed, and used. But it has also confirmed that the linkages between knowledge and power are both very intimate and very consequential and that arriving at a better understanding of this linkage is crucial to any attempt to formulate a political theory of knowledge and its production.

With regard to African sexualities, the politics of knowledge has been purposefully used to highlight how knowledge on African sexualities has been created, used, communicated and understood as an authority. In other words, how the production of knowledge on African sexualities is imperative to explore what knowledge is produced, how it is produced, and whose knowledge takes precedence. In as much as knowledge can be described as empowering, it can be used as a tool of controlling, and subduing the ‘other.’ For example, “according to the poststructuralists, for the modern state to survive as a central, self-reproducing power, it has to develop a series of mechanisms of control that prevent individual subjects from exercising their freedom of choice, or even their intellectual freedom” (García 2001:110). Knowledge on practices such as FGC has been created differently and as such, has influenced different understandings of its practice.

The WHO as cited in Estabrooks (2012:1) has described FGC as a process which involves “the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons.” While FGC is described as harmful from a medical and sexual rights perspective, such assumptions appear less convincing to some members of the FGC practicing communities.

As a practice, FGC is understood as a primitive practice which in the global society has no moral significance. It is perceived as barbaric, i.e., a practice that is brutal, extremely painful, and often associated with severe health complications. Most voices that call for its eradication describe the practice in terms of physical mutilation in order to emphasise the severity of its health implications. Through anti-FGM campaigns, attempts to deconstruct indigenous knowledge about the practice have thus approached it negatively. Nnaemeka (2005:27-42) criticises the way in which FGC has been understood especially by the knowledge that engages it from the Western perspective. In particular, Nnaemeka has discussed how international agendas and knowledge have been used to respond to FGC in Africa creating a tension between knowledge from two domains: the public domain Universalists and the private domain Relativists.

While most of the Western discourses tend to accuse the practicing societies of violating human rights by promoting cultural relativism (Cassman 2008:128), the West has also been accused of its attempts to impose Western cultural values on traditional African societies in Africa (Cassman 2008:130; Oba 2008:1). This is particularly the case of the WHO and its failure to include on the list of harmful practices female genital surgical procedures conducted in the West. Instead, it seems to have concentrated its energies on seeking to criminalise FGC in practicing African societies. This has been criticised by Cassman (2008) as a form of cultural imperialism. Additionally, Cassman (2008:142) proposes a need to appreciate and understand the traditional knowledge with regard to practices such as FGC. Although she contends that there has been an innovative effort in the struggle to find a solution to FGC from the West, cultural relativism has not been given positive recognition in the struggle. According to Cassman’s point of view, understanding cultural relativism opens a way to dialogue with the cutters, those who are being cut, and with the gatekeepers of the tradition. It also seeks to understand why people still consider FGC practice good and appropriate. Such a view has helped this study develop a communication model by which indigenous knowledge on FGC can be incorporated into the public arena and ensuing debates on the subject.

Tamale (2011:14-15) claims that the misunderstanding of African sexualities can be drawn back to the colonial era. Central to colonial intention was the conviction to civilise African people. Tamale (2006:89) has argued that colonialism with the help of traditional patriarchy developed laws and conceived situations through which women’s sexuality was kept under control and surveillance. Tamale (2008:51) further contends that the misrepresentation of African sexuality especially for women during the era of colonialism and into the postcolonial era has led to what she calls opportunities of subordination and oppression to women. Tamale claims that the colonialists’ construction of African sexuality as manifestations of “profligate and hyper-sexual” (2006:89) behaviour facilitated more suppression and control of women’s sexual rights. Therefore, traditional customary laws were put into writing and reinforced through State, religion and patriarchy structures. Tamale’s concepts seem to be informed by studies that have been done on African sexualities such as Caldwell, Caldwell, and Quiggin (1989) and Vaugham (1991).

Caldwell, Caldwell and Quiggin (1989:187) have understood African sexualities as a “distinct internally coherent African system embracing sexuality, marriage, and much else” By distinct the authors proposes a sexuality exclusive to Africans and characterised by a perverseness demonstrated in acts of prostitution, adultery, and premarital sexual relations and short of religious moral values (Caldwell, Caldwell, and Quiggin 1989:195). In general, their work dwells much on the negative perceptions of African sexualities and suggests a need to control African women’s sexuality as it contributes to promiscuity and the spread of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) such as HIV and AIDS. Similarly, a study conducted by Vaughan (1991) engages African sexualities from a similar standpoint as Caldwell, Caldwell, and Quiggin. Vaughan (1991:133) argues that during the colonial era, the colonialist “constructed syphilis epidemic” intended to demonise the Baganda women sexuality. Vaughan (1991) elaborates that colonialists and the earlier missionaries tried to denounce women’s sexuality as that which dangerously contributed to the then “supposed” outbreak of syphilis in Uganda” (cf. Arnfred 2004:67). Vaughan, (1991:133) further claims that the colonial system perceived Baganda women as characterised with “strong passions” that needed to be put under strict control by both colonial and patriarchal powers.

Both Nnaemeka (2005) and Tamale (2003; 2006; 2008; 2009; 2011; 2013) appear to argue that the diversity of African sexualities is unrecognised. Instead, they are seen as avenues of torture especially towards women. These scholars have rightly argued that the politicisation of African sexualities in general pays less attention to the diversity of African sexualities and their agency to promote women’s health. While the authors are not fully advocating for the continued practice of FGC especially due to its abusive nature to women, like Kanyoro (2002), they are calling for a cultural analysis of FGC so as to assess its viability as a health asset. This theoretical framework has enabled this study to understand factors that lead to the complexities of African sexualities. Furthermore, the framework enabled the study to critically analyse how different standpoints tend to shape the understanding of human sexuality.

In support of the theoretical framework used in this study, two approaches were utilised:

i. The cultural-centred approach of Dutta, Ban and Pal (2012).

ii. The poststructuralist approach as proposed by McKee (2003).

One of the aspects examined by the Culture-centred Approach (CCA) is the health communication within marginalised groups of people. A health communication involves the engagement of knowledge dialogically, i.e., between the dominant voices and those of the minority. This approach “argues that communication theorising ought to locate culture at the centre of the communication process such that the theories are contextually embedded and co-constructed through dialogue with the cultural participants” (Dutta 2008b). As used in the health communication paradigm, such an approach is used to critically examine how dominant knowledge is constructed to explain issues of health among marginalised groups of people. It argues that sometimes the dominant voices do not recognise the voices of the marginalised group in their construction of theories around health. Instead, health policies are based on assumptions and tools which do not communicate with the knowledge of the marginalised groups. The CCA examines a “dialectical relationship between inclusion and exclusion” in the generation of knowledge (Dutta 2008a:45). In other words, it attempts to expose what is taken for granted, what is included, and what is excluded in the way people’s experiences are perceived and conceptualised. Such an approach suggests an engagement with the cultural contexts and the cultural gatekeepers in the construction of knowledge that facilitates health communication.

Through a CCA, this study will be enabled to examine how knowledge from the public domain engages with that from the private domain. It will enable the study to identify possible causes of resistances within these discourses. Furthermore, through this approach the study will be able to examine why the communicative dialogue between the practitioners of FGC and most of the voices who attempt to eradicate it still find it hard to communicate. As a consequence, the CCA will enable this study to engage with the Sabiny FGC rite in an attempt to establish resources that can be used positively in educating Sabiny girls on issues such as reproductive health, hygiene, self-worth and womanhood.

According to McKee (2003:9), a poststructuralist approach holds that “cultures seem to make sense of the world differently: and that it is impossible to say that one is right and the other is wrong.” A post-structuralist view attempts to explain that people have different ways of experiencing a phenomenon depending on their standpoint. A poststructuralist approach is critical of outsiders’ judgmental positions over people’s experiences. It argues for the recognition of cultural contexts over assumptions. Cultural relativists have attempted to accuse many anti-FGC voices of cultural imperialism due to their failure to recognise the significance of their experiences. Cultural relativists as far as FGC is concerned seem to build their position alongside poststructuralist theories. This approach will assist the study to understand the different views on African sexualities and to further interrogate pro-FGC discourses. In relation to the Sabiny people, a poststructuralist approach provides grounds to examine why they still hold on to FGC, calling it a rite of initiation, and why different levels of knowledge have emerged in respect to its practice.

1.9. Methodological Approach

This qualitative study was based on existing literature. According to Hancock, (1998:2) “qualitative research is concerned with developing explanations of social phenomena. That is to say, it aims to help us to understand the world in which we live and why things are the way they are.” This present work forms a non-empirical study. Mouton (2004:57) describes non-empirical studies as those which are “based on theory.” In other words, they are theoretically driven.

I describe this present work as qualitative and non-empirical in the sense that it is focused on theories developed within the accessed literature on African sexualities and FGC. It takes consideration on the use of words, language and meaning in the construction of these theories. The search for meaning was very central in this study. In order to understand the subject of sexuality, African sexuality and FGC, the study sought to establish the environment that informed the conception of the discourses. Moreover, this study is qualitative because its interest is not based on establishing numbers and statistics of who advocates for FGC or how many scholars present African sexualities negatively. Rather, its focus was directed on what knowledge is produced on the objects of study, whose knowledge it was, for what purpose it was developed, how it was constructed and how it was disseminated.

In this study, I employed textual analysis as the chosen methodology of the study. I utilised texts on sexuality, African sexuality, and FGC to form the research sample for my study. Textual analysis is a research method that “researchers use to gather information about how other human beings make sense of the world” (McKee 2003:1).

In phase one, I explored the literature that speaks about African sexualities and FGC broadly and then narrowed it down to the Sabiny people in Uganda. This consisted of literature from a wide number of recognised scholars on sexuality, African sexualities, and the work of social scientists that discusses broadly the practice of FGM and against the backdrop of the entire Sabiny culture and history.

In phase two, I familiarised myself with the state of women’s health globally and particular within the Ugandan context. Of key interest here was my determination to establish issues that related to FGM practice from the global perspective and among the Sabiny people of Uganda.

In phase three, I concentrated on using the theoretical framework proposed for this study that follows the African feminist approach to the politics of knowledge on African sexualities as understood by Nnaemeka and Tamale to interpret the discourses on African sexuality and those that engage FGM from both the global and the Sabiny cultural milieu. The purpose of such engagement was to understand how these discourses contribute to the understanding of women’s health. The findings were organised into the five main chapters forming this dissertation.

1.10. Outline of the Study

Since this work involved the interplay between the levels of knowledge from different cultural standpoints, I analysed discourses using the post-structuralist approach as understood by McKee (2003) and the CCA as developed by Dutta, Ban and Pal (2012) to discuss how these levels of knowledge communicate with one another. As regards a general schema, the second and third chapters of the study will focus on the discourses on African sexualities and FGC. These discourses will be engaged from an African perspective so as to understand how the African worldview shape their perception. In the fourth chapter, using mostly the cultural-centred approach I will critically analyse the discourses on FGC focusing especially on the aspect of language and communication.

In detail, this study is divided into five clearly demarcated and logical chapters:

i. In chapter one I will present a general introduction to the study. The chapter will involve detailed presentation of the theoretical framework and the methodological approaches upon which the entire study is based.
ii. In chapter two I will discuss the understanding African sexualities.
iii. In chapter three I will locate the practice of FGC among the Sabiny of Uganda and further within the global perspective.
iv. In chapter four I will provide a critical analysis of the FGC debates and attempt to analyse how they contribute to the understanding of the health of women.
v. In chapter five I will summarise the study, and give a general conclusion.

1.11. Chapter Summary

In this chapter I have sought to provide a background to the study, a statement of the problem, as well as the purpose, significance, and the outline of the study. I have also presented the theoretical framework and methodological approach utilised in the study.

In the chapter which follows, I will engage with the understanding of African sexualities from two perspectives, namely, the Western view and the African view.


2.1. Introduction

While the previous chapter formed a general introduction to the study this chapter focuses on understanding African Sexualities. In this chapter I will argue that various levels of knowledge seem to continuously contribute to the contemporary perception of African sexualities within and outside of the African cultural setting, and that through the mediation of language and gender, African sexualities are made further complex.

The chapter is divided into three sections. In the first main section I discuss the concept of human sexuality, and elaborate on feminism in the African context. In the second main section I present the two approaches by which African sexualities have been addressed, i.e., Western and African perspectives. Finally, in the third main section I discuss the problem of language and gender in relation to sexuality.

2.2. Understanding African Sexualities

The term ‘sexuality’ has been5 approached from different perspectives in search of its meaning.6 For the WHO (2006:5) it is defined as:

A central aspect of being human through life and encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction. Sexuality is experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviours, practices, roles and relationshipsinfluenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic political, cultural, ethical, legal, historical and religions and spiritual factors.

This definition appears to suggest that the human person is inseparable from her or his sexuality since sexuality is associated with human essence. In other words, through the expression of sexuality a human person communicates who she or he essentially is. It locates the person as an individual but also as one living in relationship with others. From an African traditional point of view there are different understandings of sexuality, expressed in different stories (Amanze 2010). Although different cultural groups have different ways of explaining sexuality, it is generally perceived that “sexuality in Africa occupies the central part of human life above anything else.[I]t is embedded in stories of creation” (2010). As Nganda (2008:4) has pointed out:

Sexuality in indigenous Africa was looked upon as mysterious and sacred. If misused, evil surely resulted. Sexuality and its powers were understood as permeating every level of human existence. Hence the insistence that, boys behave as male and girls as female.

The sacredness of sexuality is related to its association with the existence of life and creation. Through sexuality, the world of the living and that of the ancestors is connected. Sexuality is a celebrated phenomenon and safeguarded from abuse by applying taboos.7 In most African traditions, discussions on sex are kept hidden through restrictions imposed by language and symbolism. The study of the Shona people of Zimbabwe by Mungwini and Kudzai (2010) reveals that secrecy is critical in matters of sex. Here the authors argue that the Shona system of traditional knowledge on sexuality is restrictive of how knowledge on sexuality is disseminated from one generation to the next. In some instances, traditions demand that the approval from cultural gatekeepers is mandatory if one is to instruct another on matters of sex. This restriction on the knowledge on sex and sexuality has a long tradition, intended to protect sex and sexuality sacredness from unnecessary forms of abuse especially from the yet uninitiated. In this case, figurative language is employed in reference to human sexual activity, as well as to the sexual organs. For example, among the Zulu people of South Africa:

When discussions around sex happen, it is either amongst peers or elders advising the youth. Even so, the discussion is conducted in language coated with euphemisms, politeness, idioms, gestures, and symbols because explicit expression is considered disgraceful and disrespectful. Engaging in sex is referred to as ‘hitting.’ Polite terms are used to refer to sex organs; female genitals are referred to as ‘inkomo’ (the cow), or ‘police.’ Terms used for the male genitals include ‘the stick,’ ‘the boy,’ ‘the thing,’ ‘the priest,’ and ‘the chimney’ (Ndinda et al., 2011:7).

Although the ‘protected’ expression of sexuality and its understanding in the African context was meant for the good, i.e., its preservation of sacredness, it seems to be of benefit only to those who go through initiation rites.

In African traditions, sexual knowledge could mostly be taught openly in initiation schools. This meant that a young woman or man who defies the obligation of attending initiation would have less knowledge of sexual expression accepted in the society. Moreover, initiation instructions in many African traditional communities forbade any initiated person to express tribe secrets or knowledge gained from initiation schools to the uninitiated. For example, among the Ndebele people, it would be a violation of the taboo to reveal such secrets and would be severely punished with insanity (Khumalo cited in Van Rooyen, Potgieter and Mtezuka 2006:14). But if an uninitiated woman lacked even the accepted language to express issues of sexuality, how would she use language to defend herself in case of abuse?8

2.2.1. African Feminism and Sexualities

Feminism as a concept has its origin in the Western discourses of knowledge.9 In its modern iteration, feminism evolved in the second half of the nineteenth century fronted by women themselves in advocacy for their “emancipation, equality and rights” (Beasley 1999:6). Although there are diverse approaches and motivations that underlie the understanding of feminism, it seems sustainable that opposition to women’s subordination is one of the key elements. From a Western perspective, one approach to feminism understands it as:

A system of ideas developed within a variety of cultural traditions, based on a critical analysis of male privilege and women subordination within a given society. (As such, feminism) raises issues of personal autonomy or freedom, opposes woman’s subordination to men in the family, and society, along with men’s claims to define what is best for women without consulting them (Offen 1988:151).10

The Western conception of feminism seems therefore to have evolved as a means to challenge patriarchal systems where women were regarded as second class citizens. In Africa, women have undergone various struggles, including subordination under patriarchy, but also the challenges of colonialism and subsequent imperialism. Referring to Offen’s (1988:151) understanding of feminism as having “developed within a variety of cultural tradition” we cannot speak of an African feminism without taking certain precautions. Women across Africa and those who respond to issues of feminism from an African perspective have different experiences. As a consequence, there is a diversity of responses. This makes the understanding of feminism “in Africa [t]oday rather complex” (Gaidzanwa 2007:7). In general terms therefore, we can speak of African feminism as a knowledge that was pioneered by feminists in their attempt to challenge other forms of knowledge, especially those from Western feminism scholarship which seem to undermine “the experience of women of Africa and of African originit is a justice that aims to create discernible differences between women who were colonised and those who were deemed the colonizers” (Goredema 2014:34).

The study on African sexualities presents two main approaches: (i) the Western perspective and (ii) the African perspective. A Western perspective tends to speak of African sexualities from an outsiders’ approach, while the African perspective speaks of African sexualities from an insider’s approach. While colonialists, mainstream women feminists, foreign religions and international and local human rights movements and organisations tend to constitute a Western knowledge on African sexualities; African feminists, African tradition religions, and African indigenous societies approach it from an African knowledge perspective. This means that within each of these different standpoints, experience plays a big role in shaping individual perceptions and articulations of knowledge on African sexualities.

The advent of African feminism and the subsequent category of African feminists11 within the debates on African sexuality is presented as a reaction to the Western discourse that has presented African sexualities negatively. From an African feminist point of view, African sexualities is a notion expressed in plurality. It presupposes a multiplicity of sexualities in Africa. The meaning of the term is informed by the plurality of beliefs, customs, and different ways of erotic expressions among Africans given the different ethnicities of people. As Tamale (2011:2) can state: “We speak of (African) sexualities in the plural in recognition of the complex structures within which sexuality is constructed and in recognition of its pluralist articulations”.

But also, since African sexualities are not isolated phenomena within cultural locations, they are also defined and regulated by factors such as ethnicity, interaction of people, technology, traditions, economic changes etc. Therefore, it could be argued that African sexualities are not static but always in flux. They can change, and be reconstructed in the same way just as cultures do. This position is against the rigid connotation of sexualities.

In the section which follows I will review how African sexualities have been approached from a Western perspective.

2.2.2. The Western Perspective on Understanding African Sexualities

Following the influx of Western explorers, Christian missionaries, and later, settlers and colonialists, a confrontation12 of cultures began to emerge. These new guests to Africa were soon faced with new experiences of a people proud of their sexualities and cultures.13 However, due to the ethnocentrism of these new visitors, they viewed African worldviews14 as uncivilised (cf. Nyanzi 2011:477) and Africa as a Dark Continent. Such assumptions seem to have motivated ideas that sought to clean Africa of its backwardness, especially in terms of its sexualities. As Tamale (2011:19) can argue, “the standard approach was to view these sexual cultures as primitive, bizarre, and dangerously apply a knee-jerk reflex to ‘fix’ them.”

Although it could mean a land unknown to the explorers, (as it was as such), the concept (i.e., Dark Continent) also seems to have become a lens through which the West approached Africa. For example, Christian missionaries thought of African traditions as incompatible with Christian doctrine and practice. Some aspects of the initiation rites they found (which varied from one community to another) were viewed as spiritually and morally evil and from which Christian converts had to refrain (Njambi 2004). Cole (cited in Njambi 2004:297) gives one of the Christian missionaries’ perceptions of initiation rites among the Kikuyu people:

The most important rite among the Kikuyu was (and still is) that of initiation. The sign of initiation for both sexes is circumcision.The physical operation is the same in all areas although the rites vary quite considerably from place to place. In every case, however, the ceremonies are accompanied by dancing and immorality. After the ceremony the initiates are allowed to wander around the countryside for several months singing and dancing. During this time they are given instruction in matters relating to the tribe, to fighting, and to sex. As we shall see later the church was compelled to denounce the immoral practice [ ngw-ıko ], which accompanied initiation together with female circumcision as injurious to the body and degrading to the soul. On the other hand, until recent years the church has done nothing to replace the sex instruction, which was given at initiation.

Cole’s account appears to point out that the Christian missionaries had a particular reference for what constituted moral practices. Using such references, initiation practices which from an African point of view are celebrations of life, became demonised under Christian instructions. The conception of the human person from an African perspective seemed to be at odds with the Christian perception. While from an African perspective the human soul and the body are sacredly united, Christianity attempted to promote a view of hierarchism between the soul and the body. A critical evaluation of the body and spirit hierarchism suggests that a sexuality that is co-joined to the body has to be suppressed in order to elevate the soul. For the Christian missionary, sex, which in the African tradition is regarded as sacred, fruitful, and guarded by taboos, seems to have been associated with an evil power capable of degrading the soul. In this case, it could be argued that as Western Christianity sought to spread across African societies, it preached messages that deliberately attempted to suppress the expression of sexuality in Africa.

Nyanzi, (2011:482) proposes the theory of governmentality15 through which we can further assess how the West has approached African sexualities. For Nyanzi, it is an “analytical tool [t]hat facilitates the analysis of the locus and the dynamics of power in sexual relationships and sexual cultures.” It examines how the conceived norms and practices within a society are deemed ‘normal’ and acceptable in controlling peoples’ behaviour. Vaughan (1991:133) discusses how the then masters of colonialism in Uganda, tried with missionaries to denounce women’s sexuality as dangerously contributing to the ‘supposed’ outbreak of syphilis in Uganda (Arnfred 2004:67). She notes that a historical normalcy of viewing female sexuality as a danger to the society influenced a need to keep it under control. For example, Lambkin (cited in Vaughan 1991:133) perceived the Baganda women of Uganda as having “strong passions.” Relating women to strong passions was not exclusive epithet attributed to Baganda women, but was a Western patriarchal concept used to describe women’s sexuality. But why was ‘strong passions’ a point of contention when it came to the Baganda women? Baganda women unlike those of the West whose sexuality had been subdued and placed under patriarchal control had been introduced to ‘freedom’ by colonialism and Christianity (Vaughan 1991:133-135).16 Vaughan (1991:133) further points out as it was perceived that “at least under traditional rule these dangerous ‘passions’ had been kept under ‘surveillance17 ’ now, with the coming of Christianity, the abolition of severe penalties for adulterythere were no longer any effective controls over ‘female passions.’” However, according to Vaughan, (1991) the association of syphilis with the sexuality of the Baganda women was a social control mechanism conceived to facilitate the control of African sexuality using powers of religion, patriarchy and colonialism. The argument can be affirmed by Vaughan (1991:135-136) where she points out that “the medical missionaries stressed the essential and innate’ sinfulness of traditional African society and the connection between this essential sinfulness and disease.”

The call to label women as possessing a sexuality that was out of control and therefore dangerous could be argued as a wake-up call for systems of patriarchy to exert as much dominion as possible over female sexuality. It seems to call for new measures, through African traditions. In this case, more norms and taboos would be enacted and normalised with the express intention of keeping women’s sexuality at bay. However, the control of women’s sexuality can also be interpreted as a political measure to control women who usually constituted the majority. It was also meant to extend control over entire families, including children who were usually looked after by their mothers and grandmothers. Associating female sexuality with diseases such as syphilis could also be seen as an instrument of power by which male sexuality was presented as superior and normal, and female sexuality as being inferior and troublesome.

Apart from the views of Christian missionaries and those of colonialists, some recent studies have attempted to disregard the plurality of the African sexualities. Hence, the (1989) study by Caldwell, Caldwell, and Pat on the social context of AIDS in Sub-Sahara Africa has attracted the critique of many African feminists due to its hegemonic representation of African sexualities (cf. Ahlberg and Kalune, 2011; Arnfred, 2004; Nyanzi, 2011). Their study which was motivated by what they describe as an “AIDS epidemic in Sub-Saharan Africa” argued that the distinctive “lifestyle” of Africans was responsible for the spread of the epidemic. According to the study “Africans neither placed aspects of sexual behaviour at the center of their moral and social system nor sanctified chastitythat sex was thought of much as eating and drinking” (1989:194-195). Therefore, central to the study was an appeal for a changed lifestyle other than “medical” intervention as more viable in curbing the epidemic (Caldwell, Caldwell, and Pat 1989:185-186).

Scholars such as Arnfred (2004:67) have observed that the study by Caldwell, Caldwell, and Pat associated African sexualities with, “the unbridled black female sexuality, excessive, threatening and contagious, carrying a deadly disease.” As with Lambakin (cited in Vaughan 1991:132-135), who viewed the Baganda women’s sexuality in similar categories, Caldwell, Caldwell, and Pat (1989) approached African sexuality from a distinctly Western point of view. Indeed, their standpoint was influenced by comparison between the “the ‘Eurasian model of sexuality,’ where female chastity is the central moral normwith what they call ‘African sexuality’” (Arnfred 2004:67).

Also at the centre of a Western epistemology on African sexualities is the tendency to view an African woman’s sexuality as an aid to initiate studies, comparisons and entertainments in the Western world’s discourses. The story on an African young woman, Saartjie Bartmann, who in 1810 was taken to Europe from the Eastern Cape in 1810 and put on public display as a ‘freak of nature’ for the amusement of nineteenth century Western audiences so as to make show of her anatomy, raises similar concerns of how the West views African sexualities (Arnfred 2004:64). This, together with the subsequent exhibition of Bartmann’s mortal remains in the Musee de l’ Homme in Paris, France raises many important questions of power, the autonomy of an African female sexuality, the female body, and its location within the hierarchies of society. As a dynamism of power, the black female sexuality seemed powerless amidst the Western dominated patriarchal power. It was analysed as foreign, different, and sarcastically amusing before Western-constructions of sexuality, which was the point of reference for a true sexuality (See, Njambi 2004; Arnfred 2004). The inquiries through African sexualities were thus meant to “read directly into their (women) physical attributes; and the attributed were believed to reflect the culture and morality of Africans” (Tamale 2008:53).

The public exhibition of Saartjie Bartmann as a ‘freak of nature’ for the amusement of European audiences was categorised by Fanon (cited in Vaughan 1991:131) as “the colonial objectification of the black ‘other.’” As Fanon further notes (Fanon cited in Vaughan 1991:131, this black ‘other’ was perceived to have an “excessive sexuality” which was different from that of the colonial masters. The Eurocentric study of African sexuality seems to have placed its emphasis on establishing what constituted African bodies and what made them different from the ‘normal.’ For example, as Arnfred (2014:66) remarks, while Saartjie Bartmann was staged against the “civilised Europeans,” the audience was “fascinat[ed] by her large excessive buttocksseen as a displacement for the genitalia.” But a number of critical questions remain: How is “excess” related to one’s sexuality? Does such a remark as “an excessive sexuality” imply the existence of a universal knowledge of reference as far as sexuality is concerned? To what extent can a universal knowledge on sexuality be sustained if individuals live within different cultural milieus, with distinct experiences of their existence and interaction? And finally, to what extent does such knowledge include the experience of the woman whose sexuality is under scrutiny? Whether or not African sexualities are capable of a single description is a question that appears to be answered through Western discourses that view African ways of life and practices as being hostile to women’s freedom.

2.2.3. Viewing African Sexualities through the Lens of Women’s Subordination

One of the key elements that motivated the contemporary wave of Western feminism was to address the issue of female subordination. This meant to challenge male dominance so as to recognise women’s rights and autonomy over their bodies. Caplan (1987:9) observes that in the West, the dialogue about the issue of sexualities emerged as a consequence of women’s endeavour to take charge of their bodies, with the view of radical feminists that “sexuality in a male-dominated society inevitably involves danger for women.” From such experience, Western feminism has attempted to deconstruct patriarchal cultural systems by advocating for women’s autonomy and liberation in the form of rights. Practices such as FGC are therefore viewed through the lens of female subordination which is constructed and maintained through patriarchal structures within male dominated societies. From a Western point of view, FGC not only marks a woman’s body as the property of men and subordinate to them, but also categorises the women’s movements in Africa as not doing enough to win women’s freedom.

Bennett, (2011:78) points out that “legal debates (in Africa) about customary tradition of female genital mutilation, virginity testing” and other practices deemed hostile to women’s freedom and autonomy over their bodies have attracted the attention of Western feminists towards Africa. FGM has been one of the most contentious issues among the discourses of Western feminists on African cultures. Scholars such as Walker, Hosken, Lightfoot-Klein18 have pointed out differently that FGC (which they refer to as a mutilation) is a form of torture and a primitive practice which should be abandoned. In addition to the lens of women subordination, most studies by Western feminists look at African sexualities in terms of “violence/or death” (Arnfred 2004:59). These studies seem to ask questions that tend to expose painful experiences rather than the pleasurable experiences of African traditional practices which from an African worldview are considered part of religio-cultural identity. Answers to questions about FGC are also reported in a language suiting the experience of violence through which these studies are approached. For example, in one of her ethnographic studies, Hosken (1993:144) reports about the process of FGC in Somalia:


1 ‘Lit’ stands for the phrase ‘in the literal use of the term’

2 Although in this work terms such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Female Genital Circumcision (FGC), and Female Circumcision are used interchangeably to refer to the operations done of female genitals during initiation rites, this study will use mostly the term female genital circumcision because the Sabiny do not consider the process physical mutilation (cf. Population Reference Bureau 2010:2).

3 What is understood as the universal moral outrage in this work is that part of knowledge that insists that the practice of FGC is against human rights; that the practice is in itself wrong and has no health benefit other than health complications; that the practice is oriented towards the intentions to control women’s sexuality. The cultural relativist knowledge or knowledge from the private domain in relation to this work is that which claims the legitimacy of their cultural knowledge irrespective of how it is understood by outsiders.

4 While the aspect of women’s health is important the literature surveyed in this study brings to light that colonial prejudices on African sexuality which moves from the common forms of study on FGM as a health and human rights issue, and while this has been championed by both African and western feminists, they fail to analyse the custom in wholesome in as far as a woman’s role and place is defined. Due to this limitation the health aspect of the woman is gradually pushed from the center of the debates.

5 The term is not used for a specific or hegemonic view of what is typically ‘African’ but as expressed by Tamale, (2011:1) it “is used advisedly to highlight those aspects of cultural ideology—the ethos of communitythat are widely shared among the vast majority of people within the geographical entity baptised ‘Africa’ by the colonial map-maker.”

6 There are different understandings of sexuality. In this dissertation I approach human sexuality from a heterosexual standpoint. That said, I will not refrain from using other resources on human sexuality that are written from other perspectives.

7 Violating taboos meant severe punishments. However, this does not mean that African traditions considered sexuality negatively but sacred that it had to be protected from being violated (cf. Mbiti 1980:11; Nganda 2008:4)

8 This aspect will be further discussed ahead in the discussion of sexuality and language below.

9 The meaning of the term ‘feminism’ varies. Here, I will refer to it from an African perspective.

10 Among scholars there is contention on referring to feminism in terms of ‘ideas.’ Elsewhere, it is referred differently such as a ‘movement’ inspired by different motivation. These could be social, political, or economic (cf. Beasley 1999:xiii).

11 Although I recognise that the term ‘feminism’ is not exclusively a women epistemology per se, in this work I refer to ‘African feminists’ as those women whose voices in academia attempt to respond to the mainstream feminism, colonial and religions-based knowledge which in their view, has not embraced African women experiences. It is a body of scholarship which tries to address the “devaluation and misrepresentations of various African cultures and traditions by colonialist” and other waves of knowledge that create difficulties for African women agency to liberate themselves from all systems of patriarchal subordination (Gaidzanwa 2007:7). At the core of African feminism is the knowledge presented as experienced by African women. It is also important to note that there exists within Africa a body of women feminists who tend to align with the Western perception of African sexualities, although such a body of knowledge is not addressed here as part of my main focus.

12 The term ‘confrontation’ is purposely used to refer to the different worldview between the Africans and the colonizers, Christian missionaries and explorers.

13 Cf. the African understanding of sexuality as discussed above.

14 Africans had different forms of belief such as in African religions; practices such as initiations rites, marriage. These formed a worldview different from that of settlers, colonialists, explorers and Christian missionaries.

15 “Michel Foucault introduced the term ‘governmentality’ in the 1970s in the course of his investigations of political power[] governmentality was “understood in the broad sense of techniques and procedures for directing human behavior” (Rose, O’Malley and Valverde 2006:83).

16 This perception was held by Lambkin, a colonial master at the time. (cf. Vaughan 1991:133).

17 New religions especially Christianity advocated for monogamy other than polygamy. This was seen as letting loose the African traditional system of polygamy, which at least had kept watch over many women’s sexuality. With monogamy, it meant that many women’s sexuality was left without the watchful eye of the patriarchal structure.

18 In the subsequent analysis on the discourse of FGM, the views of these scholars will be presented. These are but a few of the many others who have presented a negative perception of African sexualities in their engagement on the discourse of FGC in Africa.


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
742 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
University of KwaZulu-Natal
politics knowledge african sexualities effect women health case sabiny female genital mutilation




Title: The Politics of Knowledge on African Sexualities and its Effect on Women's Health. A Case of the Sabiny Female Genital Mutilation