Wangila, Mary Nyengweso. Female Circumcision: The Interplay of Religion, Culture, and Gender in Kenya.

Author:Fenyo, Mario
Position:Book review

Wangila, Mary Nyengweso. Female Circumcision: The Interplay of Religion, Culture, and Gender in Kenya. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2007. 206 pp.

One of my most distinct recollections from my days at the University of Khartoum, in the Sudan, where I taught a generation ago, was a visit to my office by two women-students, modestly covered in their tob. They came to discuss a serious concern, namely the operation their (eventual) daughters will be likely to undergo. Would I please intervene and do something to discourage the practice? Of course, the practice they had in mind was infibulation, which the author of this work usually terms "excision". Obviously, my students wildly overestimated my influence as a Senior Lecturer "expat" in a country and culture that was not my own. The British colonial masters, who did have real power and had caused a lot of harm and little good, did attempt to abolish the practice one hundred years ago, to no avail.

A few years earlier, before my journeys to Africa, Dr. Carolyn Lobban and her husband told me about their experience in Somalia, where they had spent time as Peace Corps volunteers: how the young unmarried men would spend hours in the hills, beating their penis with a rock against a rock, to harden it and to make it easier for them to penetrate their infibulated brides on their wedding night.

It should be noted that infibulation cannot be the specific focus of Wangila's book, for the simple reason that the kind of circumcision that is commonly practiced in Kenya is clitoridectomy, sometimes termed clitorectomy, which is a far milder form of mutilation. Part of her methodology was to interview fifty Kenyan women from different ethnic groups who had undergone the operation and were willing to offer inside information. Hence her work can be justified scientifically by its relatively novel methodology. Indeed, scholarly as Wangila's book is, it covers no gap in scholarship, for the topic itself has been approached many times over the past few decades, as can be seen from the bibliography, which extends over 13 pages, and the endnotes, which take up 24 pages.

There is an unfortunate lapse by the editors at Orbis, which Wangila should have caught and corrected. The map of Africa showing the extent of the practice of FGM (Female genital mutilation) printed on the page preceding her own text, distinguishes clearly between the zones of Africa where clitoridectomy is commonly practiced and the more limited areas...

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