Reinterpreting experiences, but resisting reconstruction - perceptions of infibulation and deinfibulation among Somali and Sudanese migrants in Norway
R. Elise B. Johansen (Norwegian Centre for Violence and Traumatic Stress Studies)
Paper short abstract:
Somali and Sudanese migrants in Norway reinterpret and reframe the meanings of the pain and sexuality related to infibulation from virtue to destruction. These changes relate to a reinterpretation of the practice as well as changes in personal relationships, gender roles and expectations.
Paper long abstract:
The concerns of Somalia and Sudanese migrants in Norway regarding FGC revolves around pain and health consequences on the one hand, and sexual concerns on the other. Somali women's experience and reflection on the pain of infibulation as a lived bodily experience changed. While they described it as a counterpoint to culture even as it was performed on them, this concern rarely came to the surface until settlement in Norway. Confronted with the Norway's perception of FGC as illegal and destructive, most women reconsidered the practice. Not as a cultural tradition to maintain or preserve, but as a part of their lived experiences. Similar changes affected perceptions of female sexuality, changing from a focus on service and fertility, to desire, pleasure and intimacy. Still, however, cultural ideals relating to infibulation as a major vehicle to preserve and prove virginity, virility and male sexual pleasure, prevented most women from seeking health care that could reduce or even remove pain associated with sexual initiation and child-birth. This was concretely expressed as a resistance to surgical deinfibulation. The paper analyses how these changes and negotiations play out in interplay between personal and bodily experience and social norms, drawing on theories of the sociocultural role of controlling women's open bodies and bodily boundaries. Taking place in a context in which the practice is highly stigmatized and politically targeted, informants are torn between a desire to abandon FGC, a desire to silence the topic to avoid stigma, and a concern over religion and women's virtue.
Understanding "FGM" and sexual violence in diaspora: women's journeys through re-creations of identity and discourses on trauma