Sexuality and Politics in Africa

Next year - 2007 - the biennial AEGIS conference will take place in Leiden, 11-14 July, hosted by the African Studies Centre. The SexGenSoc panel proposal below has now been accepted by the AEGIS Scientific Steering Committee. The first AEGIS conference took place in London last year. The SexGenSoc programme had a panel at that conference as well. The panel for the 2007 AEGIS conference in Leiden is likely to be the last activity of the SexGenSoc programme.

The multiple ways in which sexuality and politics intersect in Africa are becoming increasingly apparent. In South Africa the Jacob Zuma trial and its aftermath made explicit the close connections between notions of sexuality/masculinity and political power. While feminists outside the courtroom were defending women's human rights, ex-deputy president Jacob Zuma referred to his sexual behavior (defined by the complainant as rape) as part of Zulu culture and tradition. Similar contestations between 'rights' and 'culture' have emerged in the controversies regarding so-called 'virginity testing', also in South Africa, and regarding customs of female genital cutting in a number of other African countries. The broad field of struggle against the HIV/AIDS pandemic is in itself a political battlefield concerning different notions of and approaches to sexuality. The political pertinence of these battles is exacerbated by transnational forces of fundamentalist religion - Christianity as well as Islam.

At stake in such controversies are interpretations of 'culture'. Who interprets 'culture' in which ways, and backed by which economic and political interests? At stake are also interpretations of 'rights'. Whose rights are being defined and claimed by whom and how? To what extent are 'rights versus culture' dilemmas being conceptualized in terms of implicit North/South differences - and how may such conceptualizations be challenged?

Emerging struggles for the acknowledgement of sexualities beyond mainstream notions of masculinities and feminities are also linked to dilemmas and interpretations of 'culture' and 'rights'. Implicit in such struggles are often a certain measure of 'identity politics', which may be necessary, but which also have limitations. How to expand the rights discourse beyond narrow notions of 'identities'? How to critically address dominant modes of sexuality, which are normally taken for granted? 
The panel invites papers which - based on empirical material in any of the abovementioned fields - debate conceptual issues regarding culture, rights and identities, as related to sexuality.

To the top