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Equality, Not Special Protection: Multiculturalism, Feminism, and Female Circumcision in Western Liberal Democracies

Equality, Not Special Protection: Multiculturalism, Feminism, and Female Circumcision in Western Liberal Democracies

Chapter:
(p.214) Twelve Equality, Not Special Protection: Multiculturalism, Feminism, and Female Circumcision in Western Liberal Democracies
Source:
Universalism without Uniformity
Author(s):
Fuambai Ahmadu
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226501710.003.0013

This essay challenges the idea, first put forward by the feminist political philosopher Susan Okin, that multiculturalism is bad for women. Okin makes her case by arguing that multiculturalism involves privileging group rights over individual rights, and among non-Western groups, women are given short shrift because, almost always, group rights turn out to be patriarchal rights. Using the dense cultural meanings surrounding the Kono practice of female circumcision the essay argues powerfully against Okin’s thesis. It demonstrates that, among the Kono, as is the case with other groups in West Africa, initiation practices like male and female circumcision transform a child, who is thought to have both male and female elements, and therefore ‘complete, into a single-sex, ‘incomplete’ person, capable of procreation. Far from female circumcision being gender-based violence, as many Western feminists tend to think, the essay elaborates on the various ways in which the rite celebrates women’s sexual and reproductive power and female sexual autonomy. It ends with the plea that for Western liberal democracies to live up to their promise they have to afford freedom, autonomy and sexual rights to all citizens, including those women who choose to affirm their culture heritage through undergoing female circumcision.

Keywords:   circumcision, genital surgeries, multiculturalism, feminism, liberalism, Okin, Kono, West Africa

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