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The Princess, the Witch and the Fairy Godmother: Colonial Legacies in ‘FGM’

Published 26 June 2024 Associated Categories What critics think
Colonial Legacies in 'FGM'

In this interesting, controversial and provocative paper the author challenges the belief that the 1979 Hosken Report, commonly credited with paving the way for the accepted international definition of female circumcision as ‘mutilation’, and instead locates it in the UK. Then, fifty years earlier, two female MPs were galvanised by missionaries working in colonial Africa (Sudan, Kenya) to raise the issue in the British Houses of Parliament. 

She suggests the female MP’s used the issue to fight for parity and inclusion as parliamentarians by re-articulating and aligning themselves with what she terms ‘Whitely virtues’, positioning themselves as noble, respectable and civilised in contrast to the ‘evil’, ‘abhorrent’ and ‘barbaric’ natives.

Following parliamentary debates, steps were taken to categorise female circumcision by ‘type’. Legislative measures were also enacted ‘to prohibit the particular types that male colonial authorities – with an eye on economic concerns around labour and production – believed to be detrimental, whilst encouraging those they thought did not damage the ‘essence’ of womanhood.’

Carver argues that through delineating the moral distance between White women and non-White men and women and by (re)claiming female parity as the measure of civilisation, the MP’s asserted their own right to full inclusion in the nation-state, ‘using the master’s tools to trouble the master’s house’. And ultimately to gain ground for (White) feminism through the re-articulation of racism.

There’s food for thought and much to discuss, even challenge, in this interesting paper but for now it can be accessed, in full, here.

Author: Natasha Carver

Published online: 19 January 2024

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