versity of Namibia were commissioned to study (male and female) initiation in the mid-1990s, word quickly made the rounds that they were researching ‘female genital mutilation’(FGM).
The local Namibian variant is framed by an international gender-and-develop – ment discourse and a concomitant school of thought in feminist Africanist research. With its stress on the perceived binary opposition of gender equity and ‘African culture’, it denounces ‘tradition’ in general, and women’s initiation ceremonies in particular as generally detrimental to women (cf. Geisler 1997) while casting aside arguments that emphasise female bonding and the experience of liberty during women’s rituals (cf. Davies 1987:104—105; Arnfred 1988:8—9). This school of thought looks curiously like a refashioned, academic version of the puritan missionary discourse. Because it proscribes anything ‘traditional’ as harmful to women, it similarly enforces a specific morality. It has been shown elsewhere that, for some years after 1990, the popular discourse of modernity as African women’s saviour dominated the Namibian postcolony’s public debates on gender (Becker 2000a, especially 171—173). I therefore suggest that, along with the churches, local and international feminist protagonists of modernisation have played a part in hiding practices such as women’s initiation from public view, and in silencing alternative cultural strategies.