As an anthropologist and a proud Bondo (initiated woman, my main research interest is how female (and male) initiation and circumcision rituals construct sex and gender among Mande speaking groups in West Africa, with specific reference to the Mandinka of The Gambia and my own ethnic group, the Kono of Eastern Sierra Leone. I realize that my work is controversial; much of the world’s liberal, radical and all other kinds of feminists would love nothing more than to see a woman like me permanently silenced. So, I consider it a great privilege and joy to be invited to teach special seminars and give public lectures or presentations on this topic at Universities, professional conferences and other institutions in the U.S. and abroad. But nothing, and I repeat nothing, could have prepared me for the immense satisfaction of sharing my knowledge and passion for my heritage to a group of lawyers who are defending the Dawoodi Bohra families that have been charged in federal court with the alleged crime of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
Of course the Dawoodi Bohra practice is a very mild, mostly symbolic form of female circumcision, involving a barely visible nick of the clitoral foreskin, which is entirely different from the procedures among Mande speaking ethnic groups. The fact that this practice is classified as "FGM" has many DB women outraged and this once quiet community is up in arms! How liberating and yes, empowering, it is for me to be a part of challenging dominant western feminist views and deep seated stereotypes about “Others” by opening the space for conversations about sociocultural meanings, religious belief systems and historical contexts of other societies. Thanks to the courage and groundbreaking work of these legal practitioners, millions of women and girls around the world who are written and spoken about, infantilized and dismissed as “victims” of patriarchy have an opportunity to be heard.
I invite anyone who is in the Philadelphia area to my presentation next week sponsored by the Women International Leaders (WIL) of Greater Philadelphia (click here for more information). Registration is now closed but please inbox me if you are in the area and are interested in attending. I also look forward to meeting any fellow Sierra Leoneans in Melbourne, Australia this coming November 12-15 (more info later).