Conference: Asia and Africa in Transition

NEW DATES: 28-30 June 2021

Panel: Engendering humanity in Africa and Asia

Convener: Lauraine Vivian, Global Health Section, University of Copenhagen

Male circumcision practiced amongst some African autochthons for centuries, functions as a rite of passage to bring youth to adulthood. In Asia, Islamic communities circumcise neo-nates and in South Korea this is a ‘modern’ preference for boys. Most cultural and religious practices engender boys to manhood and in reciprocity, girls to womanhood as the ritual prepares them for adult sexual relations and responsibility. Circumcision thereby confers authority on men and socio-politically makes a distinction for those ethnic groups who practice the custom. In Africa, the practice marks men (and through childbirth) those women who will assume familial responsibilities to become clan ancestors. As with Islamic practices circumcision allocates gender-based religious authority and political belonging. Importantly, the African practice links to a concept of Ubuntu, a shared philosophy that a person is a person by virtue of other people. This embraces tolerance of diversity amongst all beings.

Today, a political disjunct exists between Europe, where the practice questions the right to bodily integrity, versus an African and Asian rite for religious and ethnic belonging and gendered identity, behaviour, and status. Circumcision remains as one means of engendering consciousness in humanity, shaping peoples and communities and determining how they engaged with and withdrew from European colonisation. Decolonisation requires listening and seeking to understand their racial, ethnic, sexual, and gendered senses of belonging and how today, the people on these continents are engaging with modernity. Acknowledging their remarkable tolerance of centuries of colonisation requires embracing a more equal sharing of values and practices, politics, science, medicine, and culture. In considering global health for instance, a debate on the engendering of humanity turns then to consider how the cutting to repair children’s hearts in surgery opens the possibility of engendering life to its fullest potential.