. Re-Thinking Sexualities in Africa: Introduction
rican women should use their existing, often uncharted power base and build on that instead of following the Western lead of ‘trying to be like men’.
In GAD lines of thinking, ‘tradition’ and ‘African culture’ are detrimental to women, being posed in opposition to gender equity and modernity. Even if this construction of tradition/modernity as a binary pair has been debunked incessantly by critical social scientists at least since Ranger and Hobsbawn’s influential arguments regarding ‘tradition’ as invented by ‘modernity’ (Hobsbawn and Ranger 1983), this conceptual pair is still going strong, breeding new categories, such as HTP: harmful traditional practices (cf. Becker’s chapter). HTP is a most unfortunate expression, a) because it tends to classify everything ‘traditional’ as harmful, and b) by labelling them ‘harmful’ it also implicitly enforces a specific morality, an unspoken norm, compared to which this or that is considered ‘harmful’. Parallel to the famous ‘repugnancy clause’ regarding customary law in colonial days, where the implicit morality was that of the colonial master, the implicit morality here is the morality of ‘modernity’, i. e. of the West.
Prominent among practices classified as traditional and harmful are female initiation rituals, whatever these may entail. Significantly Becker reports that “when researchers from the University 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)”—even if female initiation in Namibia contains no kind of genital cutting. The reactions of the Namibian colleagues should come as no surprise, however; since 1997 the officially accepted name for any kind of modification of the female genitalia—often linked to initiation rituals—is female genital mutilation, FGM. In a joint statement issued in April 1997 by WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA the following definition is given: “Female genital mutilation comprises all procedures involving part or total removal off the external female genitalia or other injury to female genital organs whether for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons” (WHO 1998:5). So there we are: international authorities have spoken. Forget about details or local conditions and contexts, or that in some places—as for example in northern Mozambique—a repeated exercise, gradually producing an elongation of the small lips of the vagina (labiae minorae) is reported, by women and men alike, to greatly enhance physical pleasure in the sexual encounter (Arnfred 1988, 1990, 2003). Everything, which happens to be different from the way in which we in the West treat our genitals, is classified as mutilation. This is basically what the concept of HTP is all about: if is different, not ‘natural’—it is defined as harmful.
Actual female genital mutilation, where some sort of cutting does take place, is of course a different matter. A discussion is still relevant, however, regarding the basis on which to wage what kind of struggle against such practices. Dellen – borg (this volume) interestingly reports from her investigations in southern Senegal, that contrary to what most people would have expected a) female genital cutting among the Jola is a very new custom, almost modern, hardly fifty years old, b) the defenders of the custom are not the men—most young men are actually against it—but the older women, c) in Jola contexts female circumcision is a strat-
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