A Painful Secret of the World: Female Genital Mutilation!
By: Siddhi Gokuldas Naik* |
Women are subjected to enormous discrimination in the world. Although, in the 21st-century, women hold extraordinary positions in all areas of life, they are often side-lined on account of prejudicial interpretations of various socio-cultural norms thereby perpetuating their exploitation. There is a never-ending list of inequalities and violence against women. One such horrendous issue is the illicit practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
Every individual has the rightful freedom to own and control his or her body. However, millions of women worldwide are deprived of this right under the garb of traditions and rituals. FGM is the non-medical conduct of cutting female genital organs. Also known as Female Circumcision or Infibulation, it comprises all procedures of partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or injures the genital organs for cultural or non-therapeutic reasons.
FGM is generally of four types:
2. Partial or Total removal of Clitoris and/or Labia Minora.
4. All other procedures through pricking, piercing, incising, scraping, cauterization and, introducing corrosive substances into the Vagina.
FGM is usually done by traditional cutters or midwives confidentially without following any precise scientific method. It is generally done forcefully. Girls are pinned down on the floor and are made to go through an unimaginable deadly experience.
DECODING THE ORIGINS
The precise origin of FGM is shrouded by ambiguity due to a lack of evidence. Some scholars have claimed ancient Egypt (present-day Sudan and Egypt) to be its site of inception. Others believe that it was mainly executed on female slaves in ancient Rome to stop them from having sex and deter future conceptions. It is also proposed that FGMs have been heavily practiced in the western world too and merged with pre-existing rituals. Lately, the Gender Reassignment Surgeries performed on intersex newborn babies, have also been contemplated as Genital Mutilations. Regardless of the mystery encircling its origin, FGM has been practiced for a long time and is done so even today.
POSITION IN INDIA
Young girls are subjected to this practice in India. A large number of FGM instances are recorded in the Dawoodi Bohra Community, commonly found in Mumbai. This community calls the practice “Khatna” or “Khafz”/ “Khafd” and the clitoral hood is called “Haraam ki Boti” or “Immoral lump of flesh”. Lured and deceived by their mothers/grandmothers; hundreds of girls scream in pain every day.
Due to its secrecy, there is insufficient data available about its prevalence. However, according to UNICEF, over 200 million girls, less than 15 years of age have undergone FGM and an estimated 3 million girls are at risk of undergoing the same every year.
FGM is a common practice in close to thirty countries. The prevalence of the four different types of FGM varies in every country. Type 1 is most practiced in Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Kenya. Type 2, in regions of West Africa such as Benin, Sierra Leone, Gambia, and Guinea. Type 3, in Somalia, Northern Sudan, Eastern Chad, Southern Egypt, and Djibouti, and Type 4, in Northern Nigeria. (See here)
According to UNICEF’s Global Statistics Databases, 2016, FGM on girls up to 14 years of age is most prevalent in Gambia (56% of the age group is targeted), Mauritania (54%), and Indonesia (49%). For 15-49 years old women, FGM is most prevalent in Somalia( 98% of the age group is targeted), Guinea (97%), and Djibouti (93%). In India, 80% of Bohra Girls are subjected to FGM. Globally, after every 10 seconds, one girl undergoes FGM.
ALL SEWED UP: WHY?
The underlining cause of FGM is the mindless belief that it is a tool to curb a woman’s sexual pleasures. It is usually correlated with the conservative concept of femininity and is done to ensure the virginity and fidelity of a girl before and after her marriage respectively. It is a method used to purify and protect a girl’s thoughts and sexual desires. This exemplifies the obedience required by a girl to uphold the institution of marriage. FGM is also carried out to ensure a potentially long-grown clitoris. Parents often believe that, unless they cut their daughters they wouldn’t be able to find grooms for them. Those who are in favor of FGM often believe that it is a religious and social requirement, however, no such religious manuscripts have mentioned the same.
BLOOD GUSHING BETWEEN HER LEGS: CONSEQUENCES
Girls are cut in unsanitary conditions with unsterilized blades which can cause the transmission of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus and even deaths. They shriek in pain as it is often done without anesthesia. It can cause swelling of the genital area due to infections leading to organ failures. Due to the occlusion of the vagina, girls undergo painful menstruations with excessive bleeding. Irregular menses or restricted menstrual flow can cause accumulation of blood in the uterus leading to a fatal condition called ‘Haematocolpos’. Other complications include cysts, dysuria, and recurrent urinary infections. The irony is that most women are not even taken to doctors for the troubles they face post the mutilation. Many victims face intense pain while having sexual intercourse. A lot of them lose the capacity to experience orgasms. Complications like prolonged labor and cesarean deliveries can occur during pregnancies. FGM also attacks a woman psychologically causing post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and depression.
FRIGHTFUL STORIES FROM THE DARK ROOMS
There is a lengthy list of women who have endured this horrible pain. These narrations make us question humanity.
“My grandmother held me tightly; an old woman pulled my pants down and put a black powder there. I cried in a pool of blood!” says Masooma Ranalvi, (Founder: @SpeakOutonFGM) who suffered from this at the age of six.
“I was dragged in a dark dormitory where other girls were bleeding and weeping in pain. I could see drops of blood dripping down the sharp knife held by the old lady!” says Alisha who was cut at six.
“Sex is painful and I hate it the most, I hate being touched. My husband would kill me if I speak against FGM!” says Lesha who underwent type 3 FGM and was reopened after her marriage.
“I can’t blame my mother alone because she too has been a victim of it. I have realized that this is an unbroken chain!” says Aarefa (Co-founder: Sahiyo-United against FGM) who became a victim of this practice when she was seven.
LEGAL AND JUDICIAL FRAMEWORK
The United Nations has declared the practice of FGM as violative of basic human rights. In 2016 the WHO in collaboration with UNFPA-UNICEF laid guidelines to eliminate this practice. In 2018, WHO launched a clinical handbook on FGM to improve the knowledge, attitudes, and skills of health care providers in preventing and managing the complications of FGM.
However, FGM has been a taboo rarely discussed in India. There is no specific law on the same in India, therefore it is dealt with via certain provisions of existing laws (Section 319- 326 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860). In 2017, the Women and Child Development Minister, Maneka Gandhi declared that the government will ban FGM if the practice doesn’t voluntarily come to an end. Later in 2019, the Supreme Court of India decided to refer the petition seeking its ban, to a larger bench. The final judgment is awaited.
AMIDST THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
The COVID-19 Pandemic has also significantly contributed to the rising number of FGM cases. Lockdowns and shutting down of schools have held many girls at home, endangered, and exposed to genital cuttings. As per a report by UNICEF, if no action is taken an additional 2 million cases are likely to occur over the next decade due to COVID-19.
“A culture of silence exists, where along with the vagina, the mouths are also sewed. Threatened by their parents or husbands many women refrain from sharing their stories while we conduct our studies”
-Jaha Dukureh, Campaigner
Perhaps the worst part about FGM is that it is women who do this to other women. Most people are unaware of this demonic practice, and the lack of awareness encourages FGM/FGM-based ideas.
FGM is a crime against humanity in the name of custom and tradition where mostly women are the victims. The knife takes all away, what was cut will never grow again!
No doubt the battle against FGM is showing a gradual change, but a lot still needs to be done. State authorities and modern judicial systems can be essential weapons to stop such practices. Strict laws have to be made and effectively implemented to curb this menace. We need to spread awareness about the risk involved in FGM.
Last but not the least, women have to be educated about their right to own and control their bodies without anyone’s intervention. A position has to be carved for them to effectively refuse and reject such practices.
It is high time women are treated right because “The scale to measure a nation’s walk towards progress and peace is the degree of status women own in it!”
It’s a New Dawn!
No More Fear, No More Pain
Together We Need to Speak
Together We Need to Rise
End FGM, Let’s be Wise!
*The author is an Advocate and currently an LLM student of V.M.Salgaocar College of Law, Goa.