SAIDA HODZIC: I'd also like to thank Bettina Butcher and Jenny Leijonhufvud for inviting me and for organizing this event. It's a real pleasure. And I look forward to the conversation we're going to have. I have understood this to be a mixed audience event. And I almost brought my toddler daughter. [LAUGHS] Decided not to.
But so what I'm going to do, I'm not going to do a standard sort of conference/colloquium-type talk. I'm going to talk you through some of the materials I've worked with. I'm going to show you some pictures. I am going to tell you about some of my arguments and the motivations for this book. So it's a bit of a broader overview of why I did what I did and what's compelling to me about it.
So as an anthropological ethnography, the book weaves in closed descriptions and storytelling, as well as contextualized explanations, as well as a fairly dense theoretical argument. And so I'm giving you a glimpse of that. You'll read some book pages. I hope that everybody's got one of these. If not, I'll distribute them. Does everybody have one? See some pictures and listen to an interview excerpt, if I can make the technology work.
So, first, let me tell you about the book by thinking about the book's title and the cover image. So the title is, The Twilight of Cutting: African Activism and Life After NGOs. The Twilight of Cutting, because central to the book's topic is the question of how it is that cutting ended and how Ghanaians and others think-- this is female genital cutting we're talking about-- how that topic becomes a concern for Ghanaians.
African Activism, because even though most of my research is grounded in Ghana, I use it as a starting point for thinking about something that is bigger than Ghana, for thinking about the place of Africa specifically in organizing activism against cutting, and the transnational connections that emanate, and animate also, the various forms of organizing in Ghana and in the global north.
And then Life After NGOs, that's because the book tries to give an account of how NGOs-- which are Nongovernmental Organizations, which are driving these campaigns-- are, of course, central to forms of governance. And yet life exceeds these forms of governance. So people are enveloped in many ways in the kinds of campaigns that reshape their health, their well-being, their desires, their aspirations, what is legal and what is not legal, the norms. But social life is not determined by these, well, newly-established norms either.
The cover is by Wangechi Mutu, who is a Kenyan artist who now lives in the United States. And I first saw her artwork over a decade ago in San Francisco in the Museum of Modern Art. And when I saw the visceral quality of it and how she herself was addressing the question of power as it was played out on women's bodies, I thought, well, if one day I do write this book, I'm going to ask her. And she let me use it.
So the title of this particular painting is Misguided Little Unforgivable Hierarchies. And it's a little hard to see. But what we see here is kind of this hybrid, technological, animalistic machine on top of one woman, on top of another woman. That alludes, for me, to the issue of the relationship between rural Ghanaian women and urban Ghanaian women, as well as the question of modernity and how it's superimposed onto them. And the question of Global North and how that plays out. And so I don't know what she meant with it. But that's why I chose it.
So I wrote this book to expand what can be said about female genital cutting as an object of political concern. And I wanted to understand how desires to end cutting became as African as they are global. The global side is relatively well-known. From the imperial times till today, Western desires to do something about Africa, they're relatively well-known, to fix Africa's problems. It's a little less known how it is that Africans themselves became concerned with this question.
The so-called field co-evolved with my research. So African, as well as African immigrant activist women, are now prominently featured globally. So not just as victims, but as voices of various kinds of feminist movements. However, they're given a platform only when they can be slotted into very specific and rather narrow roles, uplifting roles these days, the activist girl, the reformist teacher, the optimistic mom or social worker.
What this means is that the terms of their inclusion actually reproduce colonial power formations. They are treated as-- and I promise this is only one of very few sound bites, theoretical sound bites-- is what Gayatri Spivak calls native informants. She's here critiquing and repurposing anthropology. By that she means people who are stripped of humanity by the very gesture that grants it to them.
So people who are extolled as activists, but thereby at the same time reduced to something lesser than, whose complexity of their ethical dilemmas and their political choices is not allowed to determine the terms of the debate. And so I wanted to know, well, what kinds of social worlds exist beyond this? And I wanted to give an account of that complexity that is somehow beyond. And that was the ethnographic challenge for me.
Ethnography can and does more than treat people as native informants. They are complex subjects whose concerns should frame the debates about their own lives and about the global world. And so I was interested in propelling both public and scholarly debates. I have not succeeded in doing anything about the public debates because I haven't really addressed myself to the public yet. Largely, I've published in scholarly venues, which I am to change. But it's a slow process.
However, my project was kind of conceived as feminist anthropology 2.0, by which I mean that I wanted to move beyond existing scholarly understandings, feminist anthropological interventions, not because they were not important-- they were and are very important-- but because times had changed. And it was time to do something else.
So I'll tell you first what I did because that matters. So in contrast to everything we know publicly, feminist anthropologists have shown that female genital cutting is something that is not simply imposed upon women who practice it. That, in many cases, women actually desire it. That it has various kinds of meanings to them personally, as well as to the societies in which they live in terms of their gender, in terms of their personhood, in terms of the social organization, in terms of aesthetics and beauty and understanding of proper bodies.
And so intervening in such a way had its place and has its place. However, that literature was missing these quite radical transformations that were happening and are happening in Africa itself. So how does something so important end? How do women who were invested in something that was a historically practiced ceremony, something that tied them to their ancestors, that extended this line from the past to the present to the future, how could that end?
And so what's been missed in scholarship were these radical transformations and also the emergence of new forms of African-led activism and advocacy, even though I want to be clear that these are always entangled with the Global North. So I'm not romanticizing a notion that there are some kinds of pure grassroots organizing in Africa itself that is somehow not already tied historically or in contemporary moment with the Global North.
And so I wanted to reframe these debates as actually originating in the Global South. And I wanted to have my questions emerge from there. And so this is where I started. Where I end is somewhere else. And it has to do with allowing the field to determine the kinds of questions that ultimately become important.
So I'm going to tell you first about what I did and where I did it by showing you some pictures and telling you why I chose them. I've chosen to incorporate the pictures from the book. As you can tell, this is kind of a behemoth. It's 400 pages. There's a lot going on.
Recently somebody asked me, if you were doing this again, would you have put in something else in there? I was like, no, I would have cut out a lot of stuff. This is too much. [LAUGHS] There were a couple of chapters that I did cut out.
So this is a picture I call, Observer Observed. And these are kids who are looking at me as I'm sitting inside a bar taking a break with my research assistant. And so when portraying some kinds of African life worlds, there's always the question of, are you going to really portray the smiling, happy, black children or the children with the protruding bellies? All of those are realities. The happiness and the impoverishment coexist, of course, side by side. And I didn't want to do that.
And so I've tried to incorporate images that tell a story about, here, as I'm trying to make sense of what's going on, they're trying to make sense of me. And they can only, however, do that by kind of peeking in because as kids, they're not really allowed to go inside.
A lot of my fieldwork was done in the worlds of nongovernmental organizations. And this particular workshop was a workshop run by an Accra-based-- that is Ghana's capital city-- feminist organization called Ghana Association for Women's Welfare. And this is a workshop for nurses who live and work in the northern regions of Ghana where female genital cutting is practiced.
And so at these workshops, they are taught not just how to reframe their understandings of the medical harms of cutting, but how to reframe the relationship to the women they attend to in their daily lives and their daily care as, what I call, subjects of concern. So this organization really wanted them to enact these pedagogies of persuasion to tell rural women not to cut for specific reasons but also to surveil them, to examine slightly the children's genitals to make sure they're not cut, to look at the women themselves, and to keep tabs on that to keep the statistics of it.
And the statistics were actually more important to the work of the organization because they thought that way they could kind of-- that that form of knowledge would lead to some outcomes. And this is one of the tools that they use is this very disembodied model produced in Germany, actually, of different, quote unquote, "types of cuts." And so the way that the nurses respond is with this bewilderment and confusion, like, wait, what, because they're trying to map something that is and isn't a part of their reality onto this object that's supposed to somehow illustrate it for them. But it doesn't just illustrated it. It's producing a new kind of reality.
In contrast, this is the scene from a village where I conducted fieldwork, trying to understand how these NGO interventions are landing but also trying to reframe my own understandings of them from the eyes of the people who were subject to various kinds of development and public health interventions. All of their lives were structured by somebody was always coming to tell them to do something differently pretty much every day.
And on this t-shirt, the woman who is jumping, it says, "You count so be counted." This is a t-shirt that she got when Ghana was doing the 2000 census. And so the idea was that if they show up in numbers, that they will be better represented politically. And they really took up that idea and found out that there is 4,000 people living in the village, which was way more than they thought.
And when it came time for the following political, well, for national elections and district level elections, they were threatening to not vote in order to put pressure on the politicians to deliver electricity. What they got were some poles by the side of the road. And four years later, the poles were still there. The electricity was not.
But there is a bigger argument that I'm telling in the book about the state of their bodies and how they think about being overworked, and how that state of being impoverished, and overworked, and underfed has to do with them changing how they think about the possibility of cutting. So I'll get to that.
So this is the caption, well not the caption, but the sign says, "Namoranteng Community Development Center Traditional Energy Unit." And there's nothing traditional or energetic happening, as you can tell. And it's just one image that holds, for me, the story of what happens to development projects, which is that NGOs, quote unquote, "come and go." And that is actually one of the way that people do play on words with NGO. It's like, come and go.
And so there's a lot of different projects that come in but for various reasons of funding, not lack of morale or something like that-- they're not bad people-- but for reasons that are actually beyond their control, end up leaving. And so that's something that happens.
I wanted to give readers a sense of how people interacted with me, some who knew me well and some who only met me for a day or two. And so this is me on a visit to a village-- not where I lived, but another village-- where women are building a house. And so there's kind of an underside to the story. It's like, yeah, women are building houses. It's not just men who are building houses. It's actually primarily women who do.
And they wanted me to help them. And when they asked for help, what that really meant was, are you willing to even entertain that thought and to say yes? And they don't expect me to do it. But me saying yes means, yes, we can be at the same level for this tiny glimpse of time.
Here is somebody who invited me to come to her house. And she's carrying water from the river, not in the, quote unquote, "traditional ceramic jars" but in an oil tin that says "USA" on it. And so even though this part of the country is represented as very remote, it's actually materially historically fully embedded in global circuits in ways that one cannot even begin to explain. And we'll get there when I show you some pages from the book.
So the person here-- this is me, believe it or not, younger version-- is the circumciser. And circumcisers are those evil figures. They're presented as evil. So if there is an evil to the story, it's not the mothers and the grandmothers. Though they're kind of often co-evil. But it's the circumcisers.
And so I wanted to show a story of a man who himself did not choose to perform cutting, who, he says, was chosen-- and this was in part something that was passed down through his lineage, through his family-- and who tried to run away from it. But he says that cutting is a kind of god that haunted him and killed his children. And so in order to prevent more misfortune from happening to him, he had to return to this region from the life in the south and return to cutting.
And the bigger story here is about abandonment of this region by the government and the ways in which people were first enslaved and then taken as forced laborers to southern Ghana. And so this is kind of the precursor to this man's story. And he was one of the few people who was very deliberate about the use of my technologies of listening and capturing images.
He said, "Show them how I live." And he wanted me to take particular pictures of his derelict compound that is impoverished. So you see, this is sort of the one standing room in a compound that's otherwise kind of falling apart. The grain silo, which is here, has holes in it.
And he wanted to point out that even though he stopped cutting, the government did nothing for him. And so he wanted his relationship to the government to be one of mutual accountability and care in which he doesn't just get punished or has things taken away from him but actually gets some kind of care in a similar way that the gods used to provide for him. Like gods could punish, of course, and they were feared. But gods were also benevolent. The government, however, is more interested in punishing.
The other organization that I spent a lot of time with was called Rural Help Integrated and was run by a medical doctor. This is a technical officer who happens to be the father one of my neighbors and dear friends, who is now passed. And he is giving an award to one of the rural volunteers.
So the way that the interventions worked, to the extent that they worked-- and so this is kind of a part of the story of how cutting ended-- is that it began to end a long time ago with select people. The ending has to do itself with historical transformations that made something that was not just marriage a possibility for girls. So the first girls who did not get cut were the girls who started going to boarding schools in the '50s and in the '60s. And the notion that there was a different kind of gendered future for them had much to do with their initial refusals.
NGOs started in the '80s to advocate against the practice and embedded themselves in local worlds. And so this NGO did so by having volunteers in literally every village in the three districts where they lived. And these volunteers were like a sustained presence there.
And so it's not just-- they didn't just stop once and do something. They invested themselves at all levels of the hierarchy from the Chiefs to the municipal authorities, to the women and men who lived in those villages, providing some, but fairly minimal, health care services and really more having sustained relationships. And this is kind of a community discussion that they went to.
So this organization was quite a bit different in its tone and in its discourse compared to the more feminist organization. And so that was one of the things that was challenging for me. I went to understand something about African feminism. But what I learned was that actually the Ghanaian feminist organizations were more invested in questions of labor. And so that's kind of most interesting things were happening in Accra and also domestic violence. They were not working on this topic.
Organizations that worked on this topic were, well, one, this organization that was really a development/health-focused organization that had no feminist background and the Ghana Association for Women's Welfare, whose feminism was very much a single issue feminism. And so they were not linked with the other organizations that had more radical critiques of how cutting was tied to bigger questions that exceeded something like traditional practices.
I have a bigger argument I'll tell you about, about how NGOs were showing films to entertain people and not just to persuade them to end cutting. And so sometimes entertainment actually, mostly, it cut into the time of the public health films. And they would end up watching these either in Nigerian music videos, sometimes Bollywood, and sometimes even Japanese films. And that had nothing to do with their originally scheduled programs.
And NGO workers themselves felt bad for having to show these, well, the intended films. And so the way they would get around it was by extending the time of showing the entertainment. So the iconic picture that persuades and the iconic idiom of persuasion is blood, blood loss. And NGOs think of blood loss as this immediate thing that happens at the time of cutting.
Here we see a picture of a child, which is also a bit of a displacement but not only displacement. There is indeed a region of Ghana where it is children, babies, who are cut. Where I lived, girls themselves decided to get cut. And that act, that decision, was actually the entry to adulthood. Being able to make the decision and execute it by oneself was what made you an adult.
For women who stopped cutting, blood loss is something else. And I'll tell you about that. And just a couple of last pictures. The person to my left is my research assistant. The other two women, we spent a lot of time with. This is in the village where we lived for some time. And they wanted me to learn how to grind millet.
And this was, again, something that they did for fun. They were hooting and laughing the entire time. So this is not like an earnest thing, like, oh, you are going to become one of us. It was a performance. I was never going to be one of them because my daily life was not going to be about grinding millet. And they knew that. So this is not about true equivalence. This is a performance for shared sociality.
And this is a picture that I called, In The Field, to kind of have a little play on words with anthropological notions of field and fieldwork. Like here, they're materially, literally in the field with their hoes and having fun. And there is no such thing for me as "the field." I was doing research up until I was done writing the book and editing the book because not just the relationship to Ghana, but because of the kinds of transnational phenomena that were always going on. And where the media and the conferences and research events were just as part of my research as something like this.
And so this picture is where one of my arguments in the book begins. And it's an unintended statement, "The law against FGM is imprisonment," that you can understand as, well, if you perform this, you will get imprisoned. Or you can understand as there's something wrong with the law. And the law itself imprisons you.
It's not how they intended it, I can tell you that. The teachers had drawn this. And it's not what this boy meant or the girl to his left. But it is actually what ended up happening in terms of how people came to reconfigure the law. And so I'll tell you about that now.
So when I was thinking about how do I present you with these arguments, I was reminded of something I was invited to do. Somebody emailed me who has some kind of blog called, Page 99. Maybe librarians among you know it. He asks all people who have published new books in anthropology and [? a couple ?] [? of ?] [? other ?] disciplines to comment on the page 99 of their book and to use that as this kind of entry point to say something about the book.
And I looked at my page 99 and didn't like it. But then I looked at 77. It's the year I was born. And I was like, oh, we might as well start somewhere. And so I've chosen to give you three pages, 77, 177, 277, and the index, page 377, to tell you something about the analytical context of the book and the arguments that I'm making.
And so on page 77, which you can take a little bit of time to read if you like. And I'm going to check where I am with time. Or rather, can somebody tell me? Oh, there we go, OK. You can read about colonial governance that, as they called it, "preserved traditions" in northern Ghana that actually undermine people's survival and exploit to this region.
And so British officials who governed the country took to northern Ghana as a source of a certain kind of romanticized ideal of Ghanaianess that withstood modernity. And at times, they thought that was a good thing, and times they thought it was a bad thing. But consistently what they did is they disinvested themselves from the region materially, economically, in terms of educational opportunities, used northern Ghanaians as forced laborers, but insisted that one should not alter cultural practices.
And so we see here how culture is already manipulated into something quite reduced and how this argument then lends itself later on into the argument that is taken up by some Ghanaian nationalists, that cutting itself is a traditional practice that should not be altered. This was not a mainstream position because Ghana's first independent president wanted to unify the country kind of by effacing cultural difference and issued the first degree against cutting. And that is sort of the beginning of the legislative decrees against cutting in Ghana.
But I've included this page here, well, A, for randomness, but, B, because it's actually impossible to understand what's going on in this place today without looking very, very carefully at what was going on in the past. And so I have a whole chapter in the book about the colonial history and how it played out and how the history of labor exploitation and cultural preservation were intimately tied.
On page 177, you can read a little bit about misrepresentations of northern Ghana. I'm responding here to Ghanaian scholars who were telling me and who were bothered by ways in which NGOs misrepresent northern Ghana in their various programs. And my argument here is really a bit counterintuitive. And I begin to develop this idea that NGO campaigns are mistaken by design. So they don't seek to represent Ghanaian practices accurately at all. What they try to do is they try to remake northern Ghana into southern Ghana and into a kind of more modern, western, white place.
And the way they do that is by invoking their own power and authority to define what is valuable life, what is valuable culture. So the purpose is not really to represent accurately. And the reason I'm engaged with this has to do with how medical anthropologists think about public health campaigns. But it also has to do with how anthropologists justify our purpose to the various stakeholders.
So we often say that we must first understand before any interventions happen. But, A, interventions have been happening forever. And, B, this idea that some kind of accurate understanding of people is necessary and that that is the focal point of some kind of social governmental engineering flies in the face of governmental and, here, non-governmental feminist interventions that deliberately represent aspirational notions of how life is to live, what families should look like, what girlhood should look like, that are not about reality, that are about holding out a future that is distinctly different from that reality.
On page 277, you can see an interview excerpt with the representatives of Ghana Association of Women's Welfare. They're telling me why the law against cutting was necessary-- why revising the law, rather, was necessary. And they are invoking some kind of local desire for criminalization as the reason. And I'm arguing against that. But nonetheless, there is something about ethnography that, in and of itself, it exceeds what can be written.
What they're doing here is they're talking over one another in a way that's very Ghanaian, where people complement each other. One never speaks alone. If you're a chief, you have somebody whose job is to say, "Mm, uh-huh, uh-huh." If you're just a regular social being, you are agreeing. You're always agreeing with somebody. Even if you actually disagree, you're agreeing because in that moment, you're agreeable person. And you're helping them construct their sentences.
And so what they're doing here is their talking over each other to help each other say what it is they wanted to say and what they wanted. And so that is not something I've written about. It's simply something that I wanted to tell you about as like a force of the field encounter that exceeds that which ends up being represented in the book.
What they're talking about I consider problematic, which is that they're manipulating the words of northern Ghanaians and misrepresenting them deliberately in order to legitimize this much harsher criminalization that happened. And that criminalization is something that ended up being kind of one of the two pivoting points for me of the book. And so I'll read you-- also it's the beginning of the book and the ending. And I'll read you the beginning and tell you about the ending.
So Hope says, "She should have been given a death sentence." And she referred to the arrested circumciser. We were sitting on the stairs outside the GAWW building in Accra, carving a reprieve from the dampness and lethargy of office life. This was January 2004. And Accra was enveloped in sandy, hazy, dust from the Sahara that the harmattan dashed upon the city. Work days were very slow.
Mrs. Mahama, the director, was out of town on business. And Hope and Musa, the NGO's two steady employees, had little to do. Hampered by slow internet connection and separated from the bustle of central Accra by a few miles, they were waiting out the hours and days until Mrs. Mahama returned. I often sat outside with them, taking a break from reconstructing GAWW history in the NGO's archives. We waited for Samira, the fruit seller, to come by and chat about this and that.
On this day, the quiet was punctured by a radio announcement that the Bawku Circuit Court had sentenced a 70-year-old woman to five years in prison. For GAWW, which was the main Ghanaian organization dedicated to anti-cutting campaigns, the widely publicized sentence was welcomed news, at least officially so. GAWW was instrumental in Ghana's criminalization of cutting in 1994, as well as in the proposed, and now passed, stricter measure that the parliament debated.
Hope's insistence that they should have given her more-- if not a death sentence-- than at least 30 years testified to this very intensified public desire for greater punishment of all those involved in cutting. Yet while she felt vindicated, Musa was troubled. He disagreed with the sentence and shook his head vehemently. "Five years are too much, especially considering that she's an old woman. Could you send your mother to prison like that?"
So I found myself puzzled. So why was he, a dedicated campaigner for this law, opposed to the sentence? And he was not an exception, I discovered. He was actually a rule. An entire set of feminist advocates and legal advocates who had been instrumental in passing this law were opposed to this actual enforcement of the law by the book. They wanted the law to educate people and reframe how they thought and acted in the world, not for them to end up being imprisoned.
And so the way I think about it is through the notion that Musa fetishized the law but not what is called punitive rationality, which is the governmental power that relies on practices of imprisonment. And so this juxtaposition between Hope's desire for the circumciser to receive a death sentence, her part embodies the really strident public desire to-- or rather, strident public discourses against cutting. Musa's contestation is at the crux of less visible but very widespread perspectives that is central to the analytical questions I ended up exploring.
And to move you over 10 years and 400 pages, what I ended up discovering is that given the materiality of prisons, the prison conditions, given that the prisons themselves are colonial imposition that has nothing to do with how people discipline each other or how people discipline anyone-- or used to in Ghana-- given the gender of the circumcisers, most of whom are women and old women, given their age, law was never actually meant to be enforced.
And so there is a big debate about fetishization of the law in the postcolony, where the failing of the state of infrastructures, political infrastructures, material infrastructures, ends up being supplemented by these very strident laws and very, as feminists would say, perfect laws that are trying to literally stand in for the crumbling structures around them, or structures that they perceive as crumbling.
The law against cutting was one of those aspirational structures. It was meant to hold together Ghana's very embodiment of modernity and of a modern state, of a state that can be efficacious of citizens that can be involved in lawmaking. But it was never meant to be exercised in the way that it's exercised typically in the US, for instance. And so I hope that this is an introduction to you, that it's an invitation to read why and how I'm going to leave you here with these words so we can have some time for Q&A.
And in addition to the book, I have shorter papers that I'm happy to send you that are just about these topics, that if you want to read something shorter, I'm happy to share that with you. So thank you.
AUDIENCE: So, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the [? global ?] NGOs are all based in the [INAUDIBLE] NGOs. I was interested in knowing, for example, because I'm not familiar at all with Ghana [INAUDIBLE] populations, Muslim or Christian, and whether it's, in this case, the impact of [INAUDIBLE] between the national organizations who either identify as Christian or transnational organization may identify as well and may use that case to say, well, this is not what Islam is really about, this is not what Christianity is really about. And this is how you should be doing things because [INAUDIBLE].
SAIDA HODZIC: Yeah, that's a great question. It's something that comes up in Ghana itself. So with regards to the population, it's always changing. There are statistics. I don't fully believe them simply because things are changing so fast. Pentecostalism is on such a rise. And Christianity is being adopted more and more.
According to the National statistics, some 60% of the population is Christian, some 30% Muslim, and 10% of what is called animist or adherence to the traditional religion. And the Christians are the ones who are most stridently opposed to cutting. But they also have traditionally lived, or historically, not traditionally, historically lived in areas where cutting was never practiced in the first place.
And so there is kind of a double disassociation from it. And actually the majority of Muslim areas have not practiced that either. So that would be in what is the northern region of Ghana. However, some Muslims did. And the animists did.
There is kind of a bit of a hot potato game happening with the animists or people who are born into those families and who today may be really anything but are likely to be Christian, who are among the NGO workers and the civil servants and state representatives who align themselves rather with Christianity, who then say, well, this is not a traditional African thing. Arabs brought this to us.
And then Muslims will say, well, this is not a proper Islamic practice either. And, in fact, we, the Muslims of the northern region, which is like the Islamic Center of Ghana, don't practice it. And that is evidence that that is not our thing either. So they're all disassociating themselves from it really and saying that it's the outsiders who brought it in. And those outsiders are considered even people who migrated to Ghana like 500 years ago. So they're still outsiders.
Like Samira, the fruit seller I mentioned, when I asked her where she's from, she said from Burkina. Well, her grandfather was born in Burkina. Her parents were born and raised in Accra and so was she. But she is among the population who is considered non-citizen, even though they technically are citizens. And they are among those who, in greater numbers, also practice cutting. So there's all kinds of questions of citizenship that come up in that context.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE], thank you. I was wondering, you mentioned just now that feminist organizations tend to focus more on labor issues and not FGM. I wonder why is this? So it [INAUDIBLE] by global pressure [INAUDIBLE].
SAIDA HODZIC: I wouldn't say it's [INAUDIBLE] by global pressure. There's a really interesting feminist movement in Accra specifically. And, as I mentioned, so the Third World Network is one. The feminist organizations that are most active are comprised by lawyers and academics.
And so they have their own agendas, of course. And they were kind of split in these two groups. People concerned with domestic violence and marital rape, they were advocating for various laws about that. And then people who were more interested in a kind of post-colonial critique of Ghana's government and Ghana's labor policies and the global economy. So by labor, I also kind of mean the global economy.
And so it's not to say that there is no feminist organizations elsewhere. It's just they did not call themselves by that name and did not have that kind of integration of various theoretical and politicized, perhaps, platforms. The organizations that existed and exist elsewhere in the country had to speak the language of development, which is the de-politicizing language. And so even if they were more radical, they ended up having to tone it down. And so those are the many of the organizations in northern Ghana speak the language of development and tried to fit feminism within the gender and development frameworks that exist there.
AUDIENCE: Following a little bit on that with the different kinds of feminist organizations in Ghana, what you're sort of talking about here are institutional frameworks for defining women's rights and all of that, but not so much about women's roles and women's attitudes towards their [? kin ?] and in sexuality and things of that sort. This all seems very sterile compared to your interactions with the particular women in the ways that they're talking to you about what they want, what they're doing, and how they feel about these outside interventions. Can you speak a little bit more about that?
SAIDA HODZIC: Yeah, there's definitely-- if I was doing an evaluation, I would say there are missed conversations happening. At various events, some very interesting NGO leaders do situate themselves and say, look, this is not just something that applies to poor women. I, myself, have been through, and then they'll name A, B, and C. And those things end up being codified sometimes. But they're also real and felt and honest.
I think the point is not to connect. The point is to disconnect for NGOs. So from their perspective, the point is not to connect to the women that they're reaching out to in some kind of genuine way. And so that's a disappointment if one hopes for connection. So I had to learn not to invest myself into those kinds of hopes. And so it was very clear to me after my first visit that my politics and the politics of these organizations were not going to be aligned and that I was studying something different and that my questions and values were going to be different.
AUDIENCE: And were the people you were living with taking that same sort of stance towards these organizations or accepting of what they could and could not do for them [? in particular ?] [INAUDIBLE].
SAIDA HODZIC: They were, I think, strategic and pragmatic about them, not hoping for too much, but getting what they can out of them. So they were not-- for them, connection was not the point either. The point was, could they be a stepping stone towards something? Could they get a scholarship for their child? Could they get a loan for their farm? Could they get them to sell their baskets? Those kinds of things.
AUDIENCE: What is their attitude of these people that come in and impose everything on them and then-- like the rundown building with the sign. Is it a little bit-- do they look on them as sort of a joke. Is it a little disrespectful?
And I don't come from this world. But in design world, we talk about human-centered design, where you go in and you look at what people-- what are the needs to create the system? And it seems like that-- and I don't know much about NGOs either-- but it doesn't seem like that is part of the way they work. [INAUDIBLE] because this is sort of all new to me. So I guess I have--
SAIDA HODZIC: I would say it's blueprint-centered design. [LAUGHS]
AUDIENCE: --a more glorious view of the organizations.
SAIDA HODZIC: Yeah, I did too a long time ago. I would say it's blueprint-centered design, meaning that they have an idea of what things should look like. And they're trying to shape them in that way. And they would some modify along the way.
There's some interesting innovations that happen within, however, that overarching framework. Like I'm yet to see-- I mean, there are organizations, again, in Accra that use the NGO forum to different ends. And that's because they can attract capital or have private capital from elsewhere. But people who rely on this money for their own personal survival, as well as for the work that they're doing, yeah, they have to speak the language of the development paradigm.
AUDIENCE: Could you talk a little bit more about how the women who are, in a sense, the recipients of the [INAUDIBLE] in the cutting? What are some of the reasons that they give for [INAUDIBLE]. And is there [INAUDIBLE] different politics of those women from those women who work with the NGOs?
SAIDA HODZIC: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, so the main reason I've heard and that I've written about is the depletion, the bodily depletion, of blood. Whereby blood is like this literal thing. They are anemic, 50% of them. But it's also the immune system. It's a metaphor for the immune system and so therefore also for health.
And so this chronic depletion of blood is for them not something that they're concerned about in a single event. So it's not about what happens in that moment. It's about the history that leaves them impoverished and literally like scarcity, food scarcity, being a concern, jobless. So they wouldn't say that they are simply poor. They actually say jobless. We do not have jobs. And so they implicate the government into, why don't we have jobs? Why don't we have infrastructures for jobs or even for investments?
Climate change, which has lasted in that part of Ghana but also actually Western Africa, for 40 years, technically. So even though there's like these moments where it becomes visible, it's actually a much, much longer stretch of time. That has meant that even though the population has been relatively constant-- the people who live there, not the overall numbers of people born there, but they migrate so much, the number of people who live there are constant-- the resources are scarcer.
Let me see. So they think of this is as a result of a socioeconomic and political crisis. So what they would say is that they say they can no longer afford to get cut. Getting cut is not affordable. So it's not that they didn't know that would make them weak. And they had these long healing rituals and so on. It's that they can no longer, because of how much blood loss they deal with and how little blood their bodies have, they can no longer withstand that additional blood loss.
And so it's a kind of refraction of what the NGOs are telling them but a much more critical narrative. It's not about-- like there's so much talk in Ghana about blood banks that are understaffed, about people not being able to get blood when they need it in surgeries, pregnant women dying. But it's not that kind of acute sense of blood loss. It's really more of this kind of chronic, ordinary crisis that they've lived with for a longer part of their lives. Alyssa.
AUDIENCE: In that context, how is womanhood, right, with its [? intended ?] loss of blood to be contextualized if blood loss becomes pernicious?
SAIDA HODZIC: Well, what they want is to have their strength back. That's what they're talking about. But they also want to labor differently. So they are, now, they have basically triple labor of working on farms and taking care of their children, of supplementing incomes through selling stuff at the market, and doing the various NGO projects. And so they think of that as a form of labor as well that they end up also not always being remunerated for in the ways that they want to.
And so that's why they're insistent on even these tiny technological advances or apparatus that come in. They want them. They want to have grinding machines. They don't want to grind millet by hand anymore, even though it tastes better. But they would say that. But, no, they want to have the grinding machine. They want to not have to go to the river to fetch water. They want to have the pump. They want to have bicycles to go to town.
But there is a way in which womanhood is also reconfigured in the aspirations for their children, which is-- and this is the one thing that really stood out to me-- where they say, there are some things that are better. And that is the availability of education, which is interesting given the fact that education often leads to nowhere. There's still no jobs. They still migrate south where they're underemployed, the girls especially.
Now the rite of passage is to go to Accra and work when you're 14 so that you can then make money to go to high school to be able to afford the exam fees and so on. But what that means in like 95% of cases, they never return. That is what they end up doing.
And yet there is that glimpse of hope that it offers. And there is a glimpse of situatedness for at least some people. And there are now women in schools and hospitals and businesses where that education got them there. And so that is one way that in which womanhood really has been redefined.
We have to end? Yeah, I hope it's all right that I didn't do an actual argument-driven thing. It's the first time I've done this. And I'm happy to give you my more argument-driven papers if you like them. [INAUDIBLE].
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
SAIDA HODZIC: Thank you.
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In a Chats in the Stacks book talk, Saida Hodžic, associate professor in the Department of Anthropology and in the Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Cornell, presented her book, The Twilight of Cutting: African Activism and Life after NGOs (University of California Press).
Despite lower rates of female genital cutting in the last 30 years, there has been an increase in NGOs, both local and international, that have been campaigning in Africa against the practice. Hodžic examines more than 30 years of reproductive health campaigns, which have problematized and criminalized female cutting in Ghana. She analyzes the health campaigns’ transnational ties and regional roles and the resultant changes in laws and institutions. She also discusses related political projects, opposition movements, and how to bring about social transformation.