(In)visible Bodies: The National Campaign to Eradicate Female Genital Cutting in Eritrea

Much research has primarily framed female genital cutting (FGC) as part of a colonial “civilizing mission” that sought to exert control over African women’s bodies. My ethnographic research focuses on how Eritrea—recognized as a state by the United Nations in 1993 after a thirty-year war for independence from Ethiopia—operates under the gaze of a rights-preoccupied world that deems it “primitive” and in need of “modernization”. Recent anthropological scholarship has critiqued the ways in which contemporary research furthers the colonialist notion that African cultures and human rights are mutually exclusive (Hodžić 2009). They have paid little attention to the multiplicity of voices within countries where FGC is practiced. Building upon Hodžić’s work, my project also explores the history of endogenous movements against FGC, and women’s rights, in Eritrea. In 2007, the Eritrean government outlawed the practice of female genital ‘mutilation’. Since then, the state has sought to ‘eradicate’ FGC through film screenings, local health workshops, national TV, and other means, and the criminalization of those who support FGC. The questions that orient my research include: how do national actors, from government officials to healthcare workers, construct and politicize female genital ‘mutilation’? How do these agendas shape the bodies of Eritrean women, who are often imagined as subjects to be “saved”? In the face of transnational and national projects that claim their bodies as grounds of contestation, how do Eritrean women respond, adopt, and subvert these projects in pursuit of reproductive wellbeing?

Hanna Amanuel . Harvard University

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