As a contribution to ongoing research addressing sexual violence in war and conflict situations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and Rwanda, this paper argues that the way sexual violence intersects with other markers of identity, including ethnicity and class, is not clearly articulated. Male circumcision has been popularized, as a public health strategy for prevention of HIV transmission, although evidence of its efficacy is disputable and insufficient attention has been given to the social and cultural implications of male circumcision.
This paper draws from media reporting and the material supporting the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court case against four Kenyans accused of crimes against humanity, to explore the postelection violence, especially forcible male circumcision.
During the postelection violence in Kenya, women were, as in other conflict situations, raped. In addition, men largely from the Luo ethnic group were forcibly circumcised. Male circumcision among the Gikuyu people is a rite of passage, but when forced upon the Luo men, it was also associated with cases of castration and other forms of genital mutilation. The aim appears to have been to humiliate and terrorize not just the individual men, but their entire communities. The paper examines male circumcision and questions why a ritual that has marked a life-course transition for inculcating ethical analysis of the self and others, became a tool of violence against men from an ethnic group where male circumcision is not a cultural practice.
The paper then reviews the persistence and change in the ritual and more specifically, how male circumcision has become, not just a sexual health risk, but, contrary to the emerging health discourse and more significantly, a politicized ethnic tool and a status symbol among the Gikuyu elite. In the view of the way male circumcision was perpetrated in Kenya, we argue it should be considered as sexual violence, with far-reaching consequences for men's physical and mental health.
2013. Vol. 18, no 5, 454-468 p.