Defying the law, negotiating change The Futanke’s opposition to the national ban on FGM in Senegal

O’Neill, Sarah. 2012. Defying the law, negotiating change The Futanke’s opposition to the national ban on FGM in Senegal. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis is concerned with the politics of the preservation and ‘abandonment’ of female circumcision in Fouta Toro, Senegal. The focal point of analysis is the overt opposition to the law criminalising female genital cutting in 1999, and development projects raising awareness about excision in human rights and reproductive health education programmes. As an ethnography of the politics around bodily practices in the light of governmental and non-governmental intervention, the thesis looks at how different interest groups justify their position towards excision. This is a timely enquiry, given the Senegalese government’s ‘acceleration programme of the complete abandonment of excision by 2015’ and some Futanke leaders’ non-compliance with, and opposition to this intervention.

After providing details about ‘the ban’ on ‘female genital mutilation’ in Senegal and a critical reflection on the events that are seen to have led to the call for this ban, I carefully disentangle what ‘the opposition to the law’ is and who disagrees with ‘the abandonment’ of the practice in Fouta Toro. The central part of the thesis is guided by an analysis of how excision is embedded in constructions of personhood, sociality and ethnic identity, and how the body is imagined and located in this process. I show how conceptions of ethnic purity and pride are formulated in terms of fear about a ‘loss of culture’ and ‘foreign invasion’ which nourishes discourses of opposition to the law and non-governmental intervention. Others use ‘human rights’ associated with non-governmental organisations and the state as a vehicle to express their views against excision and those who oppose its criminalisation. I examine how idioms like ‘the state’, ‘human rights’ and ‘Futanke way of life’ feature in discourses around the ban of excision in Fouta Toro, and how respectability and honour are maintained through competing representations of the female body as a site of morality. Some claim the female body – a reproducer of cultural identities – with reference to duties through kin obligations, others with reference to ‘human rights’ and ‘the state’.

Based on 15 months’ ethnographic fieldwork in Fouta Toro and nine years working in and researching the impact of development in Senegal, this dissertation contributes to scholarship on Fouta Toro and indicates how governmental and non-governmental intervention stirs up the caste-related power structures of a society led by the Tooroɓɓe since the Islamic revolution in the 18th century. It shows how the female body is located as a site of morality, key to the reproduction of cultural identities.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)


Politics of the body, Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), female circumcision, gender and embodiment, personhood, , sexuality, control of desire, embodiment and ethnicity, ban on FGM, opposition to NGOs, Fulani, Fulbe, Pulaar, Fouta Toro, Senegal, women, gender, development

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14 November 2012

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

13 Sep 2013 08:15

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 10:26


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