This book provides a nuanced analysis of the transformations that the ritual cutting of Female Circumcision (FC) recently underwent within the changing medical and institutional context of the HIV/AIDS pandemic among Ejagham tribes in Southwest ...
Cameroon. Based on local level ethnography, it captures the multivocale perspectives and agency of participants thereby putting to question the uncritical feminist stance that 'Third World Women' lack agency and are chattel. As the highest rite of patriarchy, the quintessential icon of gendered personhood and femininity, FC remains salient even when it is no longer the criterion for membership into the Moninkim secret society especially within the new medical and institutional context of the HIV/AIDS pandemic because it is intertwined with the whole cultural political economy of the Ejaghams. The commercialization of this feminine institution charged with feminine personhood through its spectacular performances (enacting matrimonial relations) within and beyond the Ejagham locale is evidence of its continuous centrality in the life world of participants. By focusing on health alone, anti-HIV/AIDS and anti-FC interventions by both the state and civil society actors miss the point. FC is increasingly becoming a human, social, gender rights and development issue calling for a multi-pronged development approach. The threat of the HIV/AIDS pandemic led to ferocious intergenerational debates over moral values about female inordinate sexuality and to the double appropriation of the concept of human security. Conservatives maintain that FC tempers with women's sexuality and is therefore a useful mechanism to keep women in matrimonial service, a moral check on inordinate sexuality and a 'native' antidote against the scourge of the pandemic. Anti-FC advocates point to the bloodletting entailed by the ritual procedures as fuelling the spread of the pandemic through the spread of diseases with HIV/AIDS inclusive among participants. A third group of cultural insiders are rather opting but for the cautious appropriation of modernity while simultaneously maintaining tradition: medicalisation of the ritual procedures. By reducing the complexity and nuances of the ritual cutting to health alone, anti-FC activism has instead produced a backlash marked by simultaneous contestation and practice. Paradoxically, the anti-FC campaigns have resulted in the privatization of FC on increasingly younger girls. However, the recent waiving of the ritual cutting as a precondition for membership into the Moninkim cult-partly because of the ageing of the initial initiates, the health risk of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and anti-FC advocacy campaigns by local NGOs shows that change is underway. Simultaneously, inter-tribal marriages with members of non-circumcising tribes and romantic love relationships beyond the purview of the traditional patriarchal orbit have led younger lovers increasingly seeking mutually satisfying love relationships for which FC, a 'virtuous cut', becomes an obstacle. While internal socio-cultural change is imminent and needs to consolidated, Western positionality on ritual FC has instead stonewalled eradication initiatives usefully calling for the need to 'wear native spectacles': engage participants in meaningful dialogue and convert them into their own change agents, tailor health education and social change initiatives with and not against the target population. Local processes are rooted in wider fields of power and are affected by forces at various scales calling for the need to look at the entanglement between local and global, economic, social, political and historical processes in the study of, and in interventions to change health and other cultural issues.
Number of pages: 275
Date of publication: 01/01/2011
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