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27-31 August 2019
Poznań, Poland
Europe/Warsaw timezone
programme last update: 23 August 2019
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Contribution Paper

Poznań, Poland - Morasko Kampus, room: 2.99

Gender Construction, Marginalisation and Rites of Passage in African Families: Ethnographic Insights from the Pokot of East Africa


  • Chris. C. OPESEN

Primary authors

  • Chris. C. OPESEN (Department of Sociology and Anthropology, School of Social Sciences, Makerere University, Uganda)


Capitalising on the Pokot community, the paper ethnographically uses female genital modifications (FGM) to demonstrate rites of passage as arenas of gender construction and marginalisation in Africa. In her journey to womanhood for instance, a Pokot girl undergoes at least fifteen (15) traditional FGM rites organised in the three Van Gennep stages of separation, limen and incorporation. During this process, the paper illuminates, the family and community are not only constructing and changing her gender identity but also stratifying her in the continuum of childhood to womanhood depending on the stages (rites) completed and the bravery publicly displayed in the different courage testing rites. While those that undergo FGM for instance, are adored, those that do not are derided. Equally, while those that display bravery in this process are accorded superior labels, those that display cowardice are permanently ostracised and cannot compete favourably for leadership. The paper concludes by underscoring the centrality of rites of passage not only in the process of gender construction but also marginalisation in the family and community.