International organizations, national governments, and civil society organizations have condemned female genital cutting (FGC). In doing so, campaigners and policy-makers often describe female excision as backward, barbaric, and a problem of African culture. What does widespread international
condemnation of FGC as a so-called traditional practice mean for campaigns against excision ‘on the ground?’ Drawing on critical global governance scholarship, this article argues that pervasive understandings of female excision as a problem of African culture obscure the far-reaching
politics of campaigns against genital cutting. Focusing on efforts to criminalize female circumcision and educational projects in Tanzania and Kenya, I illustrate ways in which campaigns against female circumcision are dynamic sites of conflict characterized by politicized negotiations and
resistance. I argue that initiatives that view FGC as a cultural problem in narrow terms may have unanticipated consequences when campaigns inscribe the communities they identify with female excision as local, traditional, and marginal. Notably, campaigns against the so-called traditional
culture can counterproductively politicize diverse practices of excision as reified markers of ‘insider’ cultural identity. As a result, campaigns against excision may lead to outcomes antithetical to their stated goals of reducing practices of genital cutting.
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