Volume 2016, Issue 1
  • ISSN: 2218-7480
  • EISSN:


In the midst of pauperization, persecution, and patriarchy, African women are providing new narratives for challenging normative paradigms in religion, culture, ethics, and health. In the parlance of liberation theology, they have engendered an irruption that seeks to valorize wholeness, abundance, and dignity. They seek to understand the African worldview from the underside of history and also reinterpret tradition. This is an approach that challenges subordination in its various forms and manifestations. African women are confronted with the “triple bind” of race, class, and gender. Yet they provide fresh interpretations that shed light on these three categories. Our global landscape demands new moral discourse that challenges oppressive models and practices. This is a radical hermeneutic that challenges oppressive cultural norms and practices. By utilizing the power of naming, African women identify, categorize, and label cultural practices that subject people, especially women to dehumanizing and oppressive conditions. Wangila’s book examines the cogent arguments for and against the contentious practice of female circumcision. This is a practice that Rogaia Mustafa Abusharaf has described as “virtuous cuts.” Based on comprehensive interviews with fifty Kenyan women within Christianity, Islam, African Independent Churches, and traditional religion, Wangila emphasizes the importance of understanding the complexity of the gender dynamics, cultural practices, and religious norms that undergird this practice. She locates the discussion on circumcision at the very heart of human rights concerns and calls for a new discourse that support for the eradication of the practice through massive education and a nuanced understanding of religious and cultural beliefs. She maintains that “any terminology adopted to label female circumcision must acknowledge the sociocultural and religious values that inform the practice, even while critiquing it” (p.viii). The book opens with a powerful preface by Amba Mercy Oduyoye, a Ghanaian theologian who is widely regarded as the matriarch of African theology. Her book, Hearing and Knowing: Theological Reflections on Christianity in Africa continues to provide the intellectual framework for understanding the fundamentals of African theology. She challenges the circumcising community to develop a more robust analysis of the issues involved in the practice. She passionately grapples with some of the relevant issues for both insider and outsider participants in the discourse concerning circumcision. She maintains that the religious and cultural justifications for this “cutting” practice are ostensibly shallow at best. Thus, there is a need to provide a more nuanced engagement with the subject matter. The book’s preface lays out its methodological framework and modus operandi. Wangila maintains that she is both a Kenyan and a feminist who is primarily concerned with the need to provide the voice for the voiceless. The purpose is not simply academic or cerebral. Rather, it is a modest way to provide much-needed awareness on the issue of female circumcision and speak out on behalf of marginalized people in the society. She claims that “my goal is not purely academic; instead, it is to engage in social discourse to transform lives” (p. xi). The book calls for a critical understanding of the role of religion in the practice of female circumcision in Kenya. For all intents and purposes, religion has been used to justify and reinforce this practice. However, as a sociologist and a Christian theologian, Wangila believes that religion can contribute to a new attitude about female circumcision. She asserts that “religion can play a role in transforming attitudes regarding female circumcision without summarily condemning all the rituals associated with it”(p. xii). The book is a lucid appeal to recover the transformative power of religion in the midst of violence against African women. This is an important book. The six chapters are well written and it is a fitting volume in the series on Women from the Margins with Orbis Books. Wangila’s voice is both passionate and prophetic. It provides a much-needed candid analysis of the religious and cultural issues surrounding female circumcision. She grapples with tendentious issues with deep commitment and authority. However, I believe that its contents can be enlarged by relevant insights from anthropology, cultural studies, and more ethnographic research.


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  • Article Type: Book Review
Keyword(s): Women, Feminism, Kenya
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