No later than 13 March 2013

Contributors from the African continent and other developing countries are invited to write on the topic above – addressing the theme of Gender & Human Rights – Biology and Bodies – from either a research or an activism perspective. Abstracts and contributions must be written in English and in a style accessible to a wide audience.  Please submit abstracts to

Conceptual Rationale: Biology, bodies and human rights

This issue of Agenda seeks to explore new developments in contemporary thinking and activism that have arisen in the new millennium around the critical nexus of meanings around biology, scientific bio-medical discourses, and bodies and human rights in African feminist thinking. The intersections between biology and bodies exist in the shifting  constitution of meanings of sex, on the one hand, and the social constructions of gender, on the other, and the interaction between the two. The limits that have been placed on the discursive meanings of bodies by patriarchy, the state,  in colonialism and in post-colonial thinking, have been resisted and questioned by feminists. Global scientific advances while opening new doors to reproductive technologies, also have the capacity to reproduce new forms of discrimination and exclusion of atypical bodies that do not fit neatly within the binary of two genders,, raising the question of who ‘is allowed to’ or who could exercise reproductive, sexual capacities and agency, and what less visible forms of agency are practiced to realise these capacities. Even as biomedical advances and social activism have removed barriers to reproduction being seen as women’s primary social and biological role, new barriers to gender equality have arisen and are complicated by the contestation of the meanings of sex and the problematic policing of gender.

Social assumptions around biology, bodies and capacities inform our most sacred beliefs about whom we recognise as persons with sexual and reproductive agency. Such beliefs inform whom we identify as having the right to reproduce, be sexually active, make decisions about sexuality and reproduction, or who can be responsible parents, and form socially legitimate families. These beliefs also inspire commonly held stereotypes about individuals’ or collectivities’ sexual and reproductive capabilities or incapacities.  Examples of such stereotypes are that people with disabilities, children and the elderly do not or should not have active sexualities; that the mentally challenged do not have active sexualities, or that Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sex, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people should not raise children, or form families. We stigmatise women who are unable to bear children, as well as those who choose to remain childless; often branding them as cursed or as witches.  Society remains ambivalent about the women and men who resort to adoptions across the boundaries of difference, as well as biomedical interventions such as In-vitro Fertilisation (IVF), or sperm donors to assist in the biological act of fertilization, so that social parenting can ensue. Critical questioning of widely held beliefs reflect how misplaced cultural values can ‘other’ and marginalize ambivalent bodies, often subjecting them to  regulation by the state and society.  Groundbeaking research over a decade ago by Ann Fausto Sterling in her book, Sexing the Body Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality (2000), provided physiological evidence to refute the idea that there are only two sexes. Sterling makes the argument that the subtle physiological gradations of human sexualities support the evidence of several sexes in the human population, instead of the binary twosome, male and female. Anthropologists such as Emily Martin (1987, 2001) have also argued that our understanding of the body and of biological processes is as informed by our cultural assumptions and biases as it is by assumptions about objectivity in research. In her publication, The Woman in the Body, she argues that the scientific method and discourse used in biomedicine to describe and analyse biological processes such as reproduction and sexuality are shot through with western cultural constructs of sexuality and gender. Sylvia Tamale’s (2011) theorising on sexuality in the African context gives further support to Martin’s perspective. At the same time, a review of anthropological reports by Roscoe and Murray (2001), suggest that historically anthropological methods and anthropologists’ heteronormative biases have entrenched the myth that homoeroticism and homosexuality are absent or incidental to African societies, when the opposite is true. Taken together these biological scientists and cultural anthropologists’ research has provided the opportunity to re-visit the disciplinary discourses and practices that examine the complex interrelationship between biology, bodies and human rights. They also allow us to examine in a careful manner the popular scientific claims that are so hegemonic in everyday assumptions and discourse about the body. The issue builds on feminist analysis and research published in previous issues of Agenda “Sexuality and body image” (No 63, 2005) and “Sexuality in Africa” (No 62, 2004). These issues explored how the body acts as both the site and language through which positioning is negotiated, and the policing of bodies and the danger of homogenising discourses from the West in the interrogation and exploration of ideas. While acknowledging the transnational nature of women’s oppression it also underlined the need for a freedom from prescriptions in exploring body politics and sexualities in Africa. Submissions for this issue are invited that seek to interrogate the underlying assumptions about the relationship between biology, gendered bodies and sexual and reproductive capacities that inform these powerfully held societal beliefs; how scientific evidence is marshalled, or purposely elided to bolster such powerful, commonly held beliefs, and how these assumptions inform state policies on marriage, parenting, social grants, housing, and inheritance.  It further encourages submissions that consider narratives on how persons who fall in the shadow worlds where biology and gender are not neatly recursive, negotiate life between these interstices.  It seeks to encourage research that relates how collective action has raised the relationship between biology, bodies, sex and gender resulting in the re-formulation of personhood and rights in contemporary African societies. This special edition calls for papers that enable us to chart the current debates on the relationship between biology, sex and gender and the social recognition or mis/ recognition of persons, and their sexual and reproductive capacities.

Objectives of this special issue:

• To further develop Agenda’s coverage of appropriate, topical and pertinent gender and feminist-related debates and themes;

• To seek papers that provide next-generation insights that advance intellectual and political understanding of biology, bodies and human rights;

• To showcase cutting edge research on biology, bodies and human rights from a feminist and gendered perspective (that focus on the African context);

• To advance understanding, interpretations and knowledge on biology, bodies and human rights.

Bibliography Fausto Sterling A (2000) Sexing the Body Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality, New York: Basic Books. Roscoe and Murray (2001) Boy-Wives and Female-Husbands, Studies in African-American Sexualities, Palgrave Macmillan. Martin E (1987/2001) The Woman in the Body: A Cultural Analysis of Reproduction, Boston: Beacon Press. Tamale, Sylvia 2011 Researching and theorising sexualities in Africa in Sylvia Tamale (editor) African Sexualities A reader Dakar: Pambazuka Press

Submission Guidelines for Agenda Journal The following guidelines are intended to assist authors in preparing their contributions.

General Agenda invites contributions from feminist and gender scholars, activists, researchers, policy makers, professionals, educators, community workers, students and members of women’s organizations and organizations interested in and concerned with gender issues.

Submissions should contribute to developing new thinking and fresh debate on women’s rights and gender equality in Africa and other developing countries.

Writers need to:

• Write in an accessible and understandable style;

• Inform, educate or raise debate;

• Try to pin down reasons for contradictions and point out differences of opinion;

• Provide an analysis and an argument;

• Be logical;

• Be sensitive to but not uncritical of how gender, class and race affect the reporting of an event;

• Ensure the introduction encapsulates the contents of the piece and that it attracts the reader’s attention by either making a controversial statement, providing a thought-provoking or new insight into the subject;

• Utilize a gender or feminist lens.

We publish articles in various formats, which range from 6,000 words for more theorized articles, which form the main reference pieces in an issue, to shorter pieces with a minimum of 1,500 words.

Formats of Contributions

  • Article (6 000 words max) should be based on new research and contain analysis and argument.
  • Briefing is an adaptable format for writers to write on a wide range of subjects (2 500 – 4 000 words)
  • Focus examines an aspect of a chosen theme in detail (4 500 words max)
  • Profile looks in detail at an organisation, project or legislation, or a person (2 500 – 3 500 words)
  • Report-back covers reports on meetings, conferences workshops etc
  • (1 500 – 4 000 words)
  • Review typically reviews books or films (1 500 – 3 000 words)
  • Interview can record a conversation among a group of people or a one-on-one interview in which the writer asks the interviewee/s questions on a subject (1 500 – 3 000 words)
  • Open Forum is a vehicle for debate and argument, or pieces which deal with argument and difference of opinion on a subject/issue (2 500 – 4 000 words)
  • Perspective is an adaptable format in which writers are able to use a more personal reflective, narrative style (1 500 – 3 000 words)

Contributions should be submitted in the following format:

File type: Microsoft Word Font: Arial Size: 10 pt

Line spacing:  single

Justification:  left

Referencing:  Harvard style

All submissions should have the following: Abstract:  200 – 300 words

Keywords: approx 5 keywords

Bio:   100 – word author biography, including email address

Bio picture: head-and-shoulders photo in 300 dpi jpeg format

Contributors are encouraged to provide photos and/or graphics to illustrate their submission

Selection and Editing Process

All submissions are peer reviewed. Articles, briefing and focus pieces go through a double blind peer review process, while all other contributions are reviewed by at least one member of Agenda’s Editorial Advisory Group.

Reviewers comment on the suitability of a text for publication in the Agenda journal, as well as provide comments to help develop the piece further for publication if required. Contributors will be asked to rework the paper accordingly.

On resubmission, the piece will be assessed by the Agenda editor and a final decision made regarding its publication in the journal.

Please note that Agenda reserves the right to edit contributions with regard to length and accessibility or reject contributions that are not suitable or of poor standard.

Agenda also invites the submission of poems on the topic of women’s rights and gender.

Please note, as per Agenda’s policy, writers who have published within the last two years  WILL NOT BE ALLOWED to publish – to allow new writers to publish for Agenda.

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap