A Reflection on the Cultural Meanings of Female Genital Cutting
1 POWER, RESOURCES AND CULTURE IN A GENDER PERSPECTIVE: TOWARDS A DIALOGUE BETWEEN GENDER RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT PRACTICE UPPSALA 26-27 OCTOBER, 2000 Liselott Dellenborg A ong>Reflectionong> on the Cultural Meanings of Female Genital Cutting. Experiences from Fieldwork in Casamance, southern Senegal 1 “The men don’t know how to come to a decision. Formerly, they said a girl must be circumcised in order to approach the mosque, to be able to pray. But now they say circumcision is archaic and that uncircumcised women are more pleasurable, more ‘tasty’. Men are only thinking of màsumam (‘taste’)! It’s the only reason that they are against excision and, really, that is nothing!” - A Joola female circumciser Introduction An especially vivid memory from the field is how the women I interviewed got tired of my questions on this ‘little cutting’, as they called it. “It is done so that the girl can pray and be initiated. That’s all! Surely, it hurts, but then it heals up and is forgotten,” the women constantly repeated unable to understand why on earth I was so interested in this excision. In the end, because really embarrassed, as I could not help asking myself the same question: how come I want to talk about their genitals or lost genitals all the time? There are so many harmful practices and alarming situations in the world causing people suffering, why is this the one worrying us and causing headlines in our news papers? The above event captures the conflict between Westerners’ and practising people’s general points of view concerning female genital cutting. 2 In the West, the practice arouses intense emotions and it is assumed by many that the cutting is an ancient, unchanging custom introduced by men in order to control women’s reproduction and deny 1 The fieldwork was conducted in Lower Casamance during a period of 16 months between December 1997 and July 1999. I stayed in a small village of about 400 inhabitants, in the compound of an extended, polygynous Muslim Joola family. Interviews were conducted with people in different villages in the area, where I also attended several initiation rites for girls. The paper is part of my PhD project “Becoming Woman among the Joola Fogny in Casamance, Senegal: A Cultural Contextualisation of Female Circumcision”, financed by Sida/Sarec. 2 Following Kassamali (1998) I use the term ‘female genital cutting’. I also use the term ‘female circumcision’ and ‘excision’ as this is what Joola themselves call the cutting, which comprises clitoridectomy.