Tag Archives: South Africa

Zambian Women in South Africa: Insights Into Health Experiences of Labia Elongation

Journal of Sex Research (iFirst). 10.1080/00224499.2014.1003027LME

Zambian Women in South Africa: Insights Into Health Experiences of Labia Elongation

G Martinez Perez, M Mubanga, C Tomás Aznar, B Bagnol


Labia minora elongation consists in the manual stretching of the inner lips of the external genitalia. This practice is documented in east and southern Africa. The experiences of African women in the diaspora practicing elongation are not thoroughly understood. The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the health harms and benefits associated with this practice of Zambian women who have migrated to Cape Town, South Africa. Twenty women and seventeen men participated in this study. Between December 2013 and May 2014, in-depth interviews and natural group discussions were conducted with the participants. The focus of this article is to report on the emic of the women related to notions of health, hygiene, and well-being. Labial elongation is perceived as a practice involving minor, short-term adverse effects that can be prevented by following some basic hygiene. Overall, personal and social value is placed on this practice because of its reported benefits for the sexual health of men and women, and for women’s femininity and self-image. Further research is necessary on how female genital modifications influence Zambians’ sexual preferences to inform the development of culturally appropriate health promotion interventions.

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Circumcising Circumcision: Renegotiating Beliefs and Practices among Somali Women in Johannesburg and Nairobi

Med Anthropol. 2015 Jun 15. [Epub ahead of print]

Circumcising Circumcision: Renegotiating Beliefs and Practices among Somali Women in Johannesburg and Nairobi.

Jinnah Z, Lowe L


Female circumcision amongst Somalis is a deeply personal and subjective practice, framed within traditional norms and cultural practices, but negotiated within contemporary realities to produce a set of processes and practices that are nuanced, differentiated, and undergoing change. Based on ethnographic research amongst Somali women in Johannesburg and Nairobi, we argue that the context of forced migration provides women with opportunities to renegotiate and reinvent what female circumcision means to them. The complex, subjective and diverse perceptions and experiences of circumcision as embedded processes, within the context of migration, we argue has been overlooked in the literature, which has tended to be framed within a normative discourse concerned with the medical effects of the practice, or in anthropological studies, counter to the normative discourse based on personal narratives.

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Virginity testing: managing sexuality in a maturing HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Med Anthropol Q. 2001 Dec;15(4):533-52.

Virginity testing: managing sexuality in a maturing HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Leclerc-Madlala S.

Department of Anthropology, University of Natal.


KwaZulu-Natal province in South Africa is currently the site of the world’s fastest growing HIV/AIDS epidemic, where it is estimated that between 30 and 40 percent of the adult population is seropositive for HIV. With support from local politicians and members of various government ministries, several self-styled guardians of tradition have emerged to form organizations that advocate and conduct regular virginity testing of girls. Reference to the current HIV/AIDS epidemic is central to calls for greater support of this practice. Drawing on original research among Zulu-speaking people in the periurban communities of Durban, this article examines the sociocultural construction of HIV/AIDS and locates the growing popularity of virginity testing within a gendered meaning-making process consistent with commonly held beliefs that the epidemic is the result of women being sexually “out of control.” With the social impact of AIDS starting to take its toll in the forms of increasing AIDS-related deaths and a growing population of orphans, I argue that virginity testing is an attempt to manage the epidemic by exerting greater control over women and their sexuality. In addition, virginity testing of girls helps to draw attention away from the role of men in the maturing epidemic, consideration of which has been conspicuously absent in the popular discourse on AIDS at all levels of South African society.

This article can be purchased in this LINK

Virginity testing in South Africa: re-traditioning the postcolony.

Cult Health Sex. 2006 Jan-Feb;8(1):17-30.

Virginity testing in South Africa: re-traditioning the postcolony.

Vincent L.

Department of Political and International Studies, Rhodes University, South Africa. L.Vincent@ru.ac.za


Umhlanga is a ceremony celebrating virginity. In South Africa, it is practiced, among others, by the Zulu ethnic group who live mainly in the province of KwaZulu Natal. After falling into relative disuse in the Zulu community, the practice of virginity testing made a comeback some 10 years ago at around the time of the country’s first democratic election and coinciding with the period when the HIV pandemic began to take hold. In July 2005 the South African Parliament passed a new Children’s Bill which will prohibit virginity testing of children. The Bill has been met with outrage and public protest on the part of Zulu citizens. Traditional circumcision rites are also addressed in the new bill but are not banned. Instead, male children are given the right to refuse to participate in traditional initiation ceremonies which include circumcision. This paper asks why the practice of virginity testing is regarded as so troubling to the new democratic order that the state has chosen to take the heavy-handed route of banning it. The paper further asks why the state’s approach to traditional male circumcision has been so different to its approach to virginity testing. Finally, the paper asks what these two challenging cases in the country’s new democracy tell us about the nature of liberal democratic citizenship in South Africa 10 years after apartheid’s formal demise.

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In search of sexual pleasure and fidelity: vaginal practices in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Cult Health Sex. 2009 Apr;11(3):267-83.

In search of sexual pleasure and fidelity: vaginal practices in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Scorgie F, Kunene B, Smit JA, Manzini N, Chersich MF, Preston-Whyte EM.

Centre for HIV/AIDS Network (HIVAN), University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. fscorgie@gmail.com


Vaginal practices, such as intra-vaginal cleansing, drying and tightening, are suspected of placing women at higher risk of acquiring HIV and STIs. Yet, there is limited understanding of what these practices entail, what motivates women to undertake them and what their socio-cultural and historical meanings are. This paper explores the range of vaginal practices used by women in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa and locates these within the context of local patterns of migration and understandings of sexual health and pleasure. Study activities took place at an urban and rural site employing qualitative research techniques: semi-structured interviewing and an additional ethnographic component in the rural site. Vaginal practices were believed to be ubiquitous and a wide range of substances and procedures were described. Strong motivations for vaginal practices included women’s desire to enhance men’s sexual pleasure, ensure men’s fidelity and exercise agency and control in their relationships. The common use of traditional medicines in this quest to maintain stable relationships and affect the course of love, suggests a complexity that cannot be captured by simple terms like ‘dry sex’. We argue instead that any interventions to change women’s reliance on vaginal practices must recognise and attend to the broader social contexts in which they are embedded.

This article can be purchased in this LINK

Predictors of vaginal practices for sex and hygiene in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa: findings of a household survey and qualitative inquiry.

Cult Health Sex. 2011 Apr;13(4):381-98.

Predictors of vaginal practices for sex and hygiene in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa: findings of a household survey and qualitative inquiry.

Scorgie F, Smit JA, Kunene B, Martin-Hilber A, Beksinska M, Chersich MF

Maternal, Adolescent and Child Health, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. fscorgie@match.org.za


Vaginal practices in sub-Saharan Africa may increase HIV transmission and have important implications for development of microbicides and future HIV prevention technologies. It remains unclear which women undertake vaginal practices and what factors predict prevalence, practice type and choice of products. Using cross-sectional data from mixed research methods, we identify factors associated with vaginal practices among women in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Data were gathered through focus group discussions, in-depth and key-informant interviews, followed by a province-wide, multi-stage cluster household survey, using structured questionnaires in face-to-face interviews with 867 women. This paper details six types of vaginal practices, which–despite their individual distinctiveness and diverse motivations–may be clustered into two broad groups: those undertaken for purposes of ‘hygiene’ (genital washing, douching and application) and those for ‘sexual motivations’ (application, insertion, ingestion and incisions). Multivariate analysis found significant associations between ‘hygiene’ practices and media access, religiosity and transactional sex. ‘Sexual’ practices were associated with partner concurrency, religiosity and use of injectable hormonal contraceptives. Future interventions relating to vaginal practices as well as microbicides need to reflect this characterisation of practices as sexual- and/or hygiene-related.

This article can be purchased in this LINK

A cross cultural study of vaginal practices and sexuality: Implications for sexual health

Soc Sci Med. 2010 Feb;70(3):392-400. Epub 2009 Nov 10.LME

A cross cultural study of vaginal practices and sexuality: Implications for sexual health

Martin Hilber A, Hull TH, Preston-Whyte E, Bagnol B, Smit J, Wacharasin C, Widyantoro N; WHO GSVP Study Group

Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine, University of Burn, Finkenhubelweg 11, 3012 Bern, Switzerland. amartinhilber@ispm.unibe.ch


Between 2005 and 2006, we investigated vaginal practices in Yogyakarta, Indonesia; Tete, Mozambique; KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa; and Bangkok and Chonburi, Thailand. We sought to understand women’s practices, their motivations for use and the role vaginal practices play in women’s health, sexuality and sense of wellbeing. The study was carried out among adult women and men who were identified as using, having knowledge or being involved in trade in products. Further contacts were made using snowball sampling. Across the sites, individual interviews were conducted with 229 people and 265 others participated in focus group discussions. We found that women in all four countries have a variety of reasons for carrying out vaginal practices whose aim is to not simply ‘dry’ the vagina but rather decrease moisture that may have other associated meanings, and that they are exclusively “intravaginal” in operation. Practices, products and frequency vary. Motivations generally relate to personal hygiene, genital health or sexuality. Hygiene practices involve external washing and intravaginal cleansing or douching and ingestion of substances. Health practices include intravaginal cleansing, traditional cutting, insertion of herbal preparations, and application of substances to soothe irritated vaginal tissue. Practices related to sexuality can involve any of these practices with specific products that warm, dry, and/or tighten the vagina to increase pleasure for the man and sometimes for the woman. Hygiene and health are expressions of femininity connected to sexuality even if not always explicitly expressed as such. We found their effects may have unexpected and even undesired consequences. This study demonstrates that women in the four countries actively use a variety of practices to achieve a desired vaginal state. The results provide the basis for a classification framework that can be used for future study of this complex topic.

This article can be purchased in this LINK

Female genital mutilation: medico-legal issues

Med Law. 2010 Dec; 29 (4):523-36
Female genital mutilation: medico-legal issues
Mswela M
The rising prevalence and severe impact of HIV/AIDS in relation to women still persists in South Africa. Both economically and socially the HIV/AIDS pandemic strikes women the hardest, with disadvantaged black women mainly at risk of higher infection. The theoretical framework of this paper focuses on the connection between HIV/AIDS, sexual inequalities and sexual violence, and more precisely, female genital mutilation, a cultural practice and custom which amplifies women’s exposure to HIV. Pertinent to this focus is inescapably an analysis of apparent threats to precise essential human rights as a result of the continued use of the practice of female genital mutilation in South Africa.