Unmasking Representations of "Harmful" Cultural Practices


African Humanities Program Postdoctoral Fellowships




Many transnational documentary films have been produced primarily to show international audiences the gendered oppression suffered by global South women who participate in or who are subjected to practices categorized as “harmful” in global development rhetoric. These documentaries ‘index’ the lived experiences of these women and use their plight to solicit for help to end these practices. Using transnational feminist theory and drawing on alternate data from personal experience stories of women who participate in similar practices in Uganda, this study examines how specific forms of knowledge about women’s participation in “harmful” practices is constructed, circulated and/or trafficked across geographical boundaries. The study shows that women who take part in these practices are cast (almost without exception) as helpless victims in need of redemption (typically by the Global North) consequently foreclosing nuanced ways of knowing, understanding and theorizing these practices and the women who participate in them.