Undesirable Practices


Undesirable Practices

Women, Children, and the Politics of the Body in Northern Ghana, 1930–1972

Jessica Cammaert

Expanding Frontiers: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Series

306 pages
1 map, index


July 2016


$55.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)

July 2016


$55.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)

July 2016


$55.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

Undesirable Practices examines both the intended and the unintended consequences of “imperial feminism” and British colonial interventions in “undesirable” cultural practices in northern Ghana. Jessica Cammaert addresses the state management of social practices such as female circumcision, nudity, prostitution, and “illicit” adoption as well as the hesitation to impose severe punishments for the slave dealing of females, particularly female children. She examines the gendered power relations and colonial attitudes that targeted women and children spanning pre- and postcolonial periods, the early postindependence years, and post-Nkrumah policies. In particular, Cammaert examines the limits of the male colonial gaze and argues that the power lay not in the gaze itself but in the act of “looking away,” a calculated aversion of attention intended to maintain the tribal community and retain control over the movement, sexuality, and labor of women and children.

With its examination of broader time periods and topics and its complex analytical arguments, Undesirable Practices makes a valuable contribution to literature in African studies, contemporary advocacy discourse, women and gender studies, and critical postcolonial studies.

Author Bio

Jessica Cammaert is an instructor in African history at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada.


"Cammaert's book is well-written and, most importantly, sheds light on the so-called undesirable practices, revealing more than policy-oriented studies alone. . . . This book gives a voice to a localized group of Africans in Northeastern Ghana and focuses on specific issues the inhabitants had to deal with during the colonial and early post-colonial periods. This is an important contribution to the studies related to female genital mutilation, nudity, human trafficking, and prostitution."—Aliou Ly, African Studies Review

“What a powerful project! . . . This volume reframes and complicates the arguments and practices in new and significant ways. . . . [This is] a unique and welcome contribution to the literature.”—Beth Blue Swadener, coeditor of Children’s Rights and Education: International Perspectives 

“As a cultural anthropologist, I find [Cammaert’s] work especially useful for providing a deeper (in time) understanding of how African culture and gender socialization has been reshaped over the decades.”—Angela R. Bratton, associate professor of anthropology at Georgia Regents University and the author of An Anthropological Study of Factors Affecting the Construction of Sexuality in Ghana

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations
1. Die a Natural Death: Responses to the Questionnaire on “Customs Affecting the Status of Women in West Africa,” ca. 1930
2. R. S. Rattray, Anthropology, and the Making of Undesirable Practices in Northern Ghana
3. Female Circumcision as Undesirable in the Northeast, ca. 1930–1933
4. Child Slavery, Pawning, and Trafficking in Late-Colonial Bawku, 1941–1948
5. Put Some Clothes On or Nkrumah Will Get You! Antinudity Campaigns in the Nkrumah Era, 1958–1966
6. Orphaned Children and Unruly Girls: Youth and Undesirability After Nkrumah, 1965–1972
Conclusion: Undesirable Practices in Africa: Averting the Male Gaze

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