Labia Elongation and Identity (re)Construction Among the Ndebele Women of Zimbabwe

Bhebe, Harriet S. (2020) Labia Elongation and Identity (re)Construction Among the Ndebele Women of Zimbabwe. Doctoral thesis, Anglia Ruskin University.

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Abstract

This thesis examines Ndebele women’s reflections on the role of labia elongation in the (re)construction of female identities from being a girl to being a woman. Labia minora elongation is a practice that is performed by women of some ethnic groups in Matabeleland, Zimbabwe. The origins of this practice are not known because it has been passed on from one ethnic group to the other and from one generation to the other. Based upon the narratives of 56 women and 7 men, this study examines a topic that is under-researched. It explores the women’s lived experiences of labia elongation and the role of this practice in the formation of collective and individual identities. This study was carried out among ‘Ndebele’ women who lived in Stoke on Trent (England), Bulawayo and Makulela (Zimbabwe) and used qualitative research techniques, including auto-ethnography drawing on my reflexive role of being an ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ . According to the findings, labia elongation has meaning and value in negotiating gender and sexual identities. By elongating their labia minora, Ndebele women redefined their social status and (re)constructed their identities as respectable women collectively. By being part of a group of women with elongated labia minora, they protected marriages and refrained from being despised as Bhotoko. Formation of these ‘women’s’ identities was associated with specific places that became meaningful when women discussed or performed the practice. Labia elongation was important in the formation of a Ndebele woman’s identities and how she related herself to her community and the world she lived in. However it is a hidden marker of womanhood and ethnic background, revealed only to selected kin, peers and partners, and thus previously little understood. This research highlights women’s own accounts, previously unrecorded, linking them with my own life story and experience of labia elongation.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Keywords: Labia elongation, Ndebele women, private spaces, transitional identities, Zimbabwe, auto-ethnography
Faculty: Theses from Anglia Ruskin University
Depositing User: Lisa Blanshard
Date Deposited: 27 Jul 2021 10:27
Last Modified: 09 Sep 2021 18:53
URI: https://arro.anglia.ac.uk/id/eprint/706747

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