Sexuality is conceived as a source of pleasure and power
For many, the practice of excision/female genital mutilation deprives women of important means of sexual pleasure, because scientific research has ascertained the primary role of the clitoris in women’s achievement of orgasm (Zwang 1972; Koso-Thomas 1987). Some people have quickly inferred from those findings, without further scrutiny, that all women who undergo these practices are doomed to be frigid. Bitter written or verbal exchanges have been taking place on this subject (Leuliette 1980; Gunning 1992; McFadden 1994). Consequently, many African scholars and feminist activists have refrained from writing or dealing with the issue of ‘female genital mutilation’ due to what they perceived as the Western world’s fascination and aggressive discourses about sexuality in Africa. Societies, which condone these practices, have been perceived as oppressing women’s sexuality and violating their rights to sexual pleasure. However, the cultural context in many of these practising societies acknowledges individual sexual pleasure, as a vital part of human life, for men as well as for women. In Mali for example, there are a great deal of coded messages in popular songs talking about individual sexual needs, feelings and episodes. These are folk songs that are often whispered during women’s housework or danced to during events such as harvesting in groups, marriage ceremonies or other types of social gatherings. Individual sexual
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talents are often associated with a strong hold that some women, particularly those involved in polygamous marriages, have over their husbands. There are also persistent stereotypes about women’s sexual performance, based on specific physical characteristics. The fact that a husband’s impotence is a valid cause of divorce in Mali, according to both custom and civil laws, denotes the importance attached to women’s sexual needs.