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8 Harv. Hum. Rts. J. 1 (1995)
Between Irua and Female Genital Mutilation: Feminist Human Rights Discourse and the Cultural Divide

handle is hein.journals/hhrj8 and id is 9 raw text is: Between Irua and Female Genital
Mutilation: Feminist Human Rights
Discourse and the Cultural Divide
Hope Lewis*
We are transformed, individually, collectively, as we make
radical creative space which affirms and sustains our subjec-
tivity, which gives us a new location from which to articulate
our sense of the world.'
Wherever you are in the world and you are in trouble, one
of those sisters will come to your aid.2
I. INTRODUCTION
Irua,3 or traditional female genital surgery (FGS),4 implicates the
most private aspects of individual female physical and cultural iden-
* Associate Professor, Northeastern University School of Law. J.D., Harvard Law School, 1986.
Edith Stephenson, Blossom Stephenson, Odeana Neal, Ibrahim Gassama, and James Hackney
gave me invaluable encouragement as I completed this Article. Judith Olans Brown, Regina
Austin, Nathaniel Berman, Karl Klare, Makau wa Mutua, and Wendy Parmet made insightful
comments on a previous draft. I also appreciate the able research assistance of Rishi Reddi, Nima
Eshghi, Nadia Gareeb, Jean Zotter, and Margret Cooke. Finally, the financial support of the
Northeastern University Support Fund for Black and Hispanic Faculty is gratefully acknowledged.
1. bell hooks, Choosing the Margin, in YEARNNG: RACE, GENDER, AND CULTURAL POLITICS
145, 153 (1990).
2. Statement of Efua Dorkenoo, in ALICE WALKER & PRATIBHA PARMAR, WARRIOR MARKS:
FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION AND THE SEXUAL BLINDING OF WOMEN 253 (1993) [hereinafter
WARRIOR MARKS]. See also Adi Gevins, Tackling Tradition: African Women Speak Out Against Female
Circumcision, in 2 THIRD WORLD, SECOND SEx 248 (Miranda Davies ed., 1987).
3. Ira is a Kikuyu word for traditional initiation ceremonies associated with the clitoridec-
tomy of girls and the circumcision of boys within that Kenyan ethnic group. SeeJoMo KENYAT'rA,
FACING MT. KENYA 129 (1965). See also Robyn Cerny Smith, Note, Female Circumcision: Bringing
Womens Perspectives into the International Debate, 65 S. CAL. L. REv. 2449, 2460 (1992) (discussing
the role of isua in Kikuyu culture); Kay Boulware-Miller, Female Circumcision: Challenges to the
Practice as a Human Rights Violation, 8 HARv. WOMEN's I.J. 155, 170 n.89 (1985). The term
female circumcision is commonly used by English-speakers in those parts of Africa where ritual
surgery is practiced on girls or women. See NAHID TOUBiA, FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION: A
CALL FOR GLOBAL ACTION 9 (1993).
4. Isabelle Gunning and other Western commentators have used the terms female genital
surgeries or female genital operations in referring to the practices. See Isabelle R. Gunning,
Arrogant Perception, World-Travelling and Multicultural Feminism: The Case of Female Genital Surgeries,

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