Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) – a term that is taboo to speak about in many communities. However, it is still very much practiced in certain parts of the world. With the advancement of science and medicine we have been given a better understanding and cure of illnesses. It has also come up with risks and benefits of certain medical procedures, such as FGM. Then, why is FGM still practiced in certain countries?
FGM is wrongly referred to as ‘female circumcision’ in some communities that practice it.  However, this term suggests a deceiving analogy to non-mutilating male circumcision. Whereby, male circumcision is the cutting off the foreskin from the tip of the penis without having to damage the penis itself. FGM causes damage to sensitive genital nerve tissues as there have been no medically proven benefits to it.
There is not one, but 4 types of FGM procedures according to the World Health Organisation. All the four types of FGM procedures causes damage to a women’s genital nerves, be it a partial and/or total removal of the clitoris, labia or narrowing of the vaginal orifice.
FGM is a very sensitive topic as it is predominantly practiced within the Muslim community in Central-North Africa, the Middle East and Asia. It is not practiced in all Muslim countries. Moreover, the FGM practice statistics vary according to ethnicity in general, and not by religion. Also, it is not required in Islam to do so. There will be people who find it wrongful of me to say that FGM is not required in Islam.
However, that is the truth as it is nowhere mentioned in the Quran, as what some claim. Certain Muslim communities have come out and responded that they do not practice FGM, but do Islamic circumcision. According to them, mutilation only occurs when the clitoris is cut or removed. Also in their point of view, circumcision is when the foreskin, outer fold of skin over the clitoris; the prepuce is cut. They have repeatedly said that circumcision was mentioned in some Hadiths (Prophet Sayings). Although, it was never supported or opposed. It also predates Islam by many years. Nonetheless, there were no medical benefits found for either FGM or female circumcision, which means the same thing in medical term.
Moreover, medicine had not advanced to the extent it has now. Therefore with the advancement of medicine, there are risks but no benefits of FGM. The removal of or wounding healthy and normal genital tissues complicate the natural running of a female’s body. Moreover, there are both short-term and long-term risks of FGM. Short-term risks involve excessive bleeding, urination problems, impaired wound healing and etc. In worse case scenarios, excessive bleeding could cause a haemorrhage; which could further result in the death of the female. Whereas long-term risks such as menstrual problems, obstetric complications, prenatal risks and psychological consequences are much more threatening.
A large portion of Muslims and academics in the West are making an incredible effort to emphasise that the FGM practice is not rooted in the religion but rather in culture. Haseena Lockhat, a child clinical psychologist at North Warwickshire Primary Care Trust, had written that the fact FGM is condemned in Saudi Arabia, the centre of the Islamic world, makes it evident that the practice is not an Islamic one.
A lot of us have the idea that FGM is generally practiced in African countries, which is true to an extent. As, WHO stated in its statistic report that FGM is practiced in almost 30 African countries. Also, FGM is practiced in some non-Muslim communities in African countries. However, it is very much present but hidden in parts of Asia as well. Certain communities in Asian countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, India, Pakistan and etc still practise FGM. An article published in The Jakarta Post earlier this year mentioned that according to UNICEF’s latest statistics half the girls less than 11 years old have undergone FGM. This was a call to raise awareness on FGM practices in a country with the highest percentage of Muslims, Indonesia.
The existence of FGM in Singapore overwhelmed me. Singapore is a developed, affluent island state which prides itself on being an accomplished cosmopolitan city at the age of 51. However, the mere existence of FGM proves that the most developed countries also face cultural challenges. FGM is mainly practiced in the Malay Muslim community in Singapore. Filzah Sumartono of women’s rights group AWARE, told Reuters that it is important to create awareness and educate the community about the risks of FGM before it can be banned. The banning of FGM requires a large amount of public support; or else it will never be banned.
A friend who wished to remain anonymous spoke to me about how she finds FGM to be unnecessary and that the practice ought to be halted.
“I was 11 years old when I had it done. It was a regular doctor’s office and I knew this had to happen sooner or later,” she said.
“All I had been told was that it was something Muslim people have to go through. My own understanding was that it was a circumcision and that it was necessary, no other explanation or reasoning was given to me.
“Do not get it done. This is the best advice I could give in regard to this.”
She had further mentioned that she is unable to identify any side-effects to FGM that she might have experienced and as per her knowledge, this practice is no longer active in her family. It was relieving to know that there are some who have stopped the FGM practice in Singapore. Perhaps the advancement of medicine and internet has created an awareness of the risks related to FGM. But what about those who still do so? I suppose, time will tell.
There have been efforts made on international levels, especially by the United Nations agencies to increase awareness on the risks of FGM. They have been successful on placing FGM in women’s health and human rights as a health hazard. Moreover, it has also been deemed as a form of violence against women.
Bettina Shell-Duncan an anthropologist spoke to The Atlanitic about her visit to Kenya—northern Kenya in 1996 to conduct a research on anaemia, iron deficiency among an ethnic group called the Rendille. She discussed some typical misconceptions about female genital mutilation. Rendille male and females are known to be sexually active before marriage and it is culturally acceptable. Therefore FGM, in the Rendille tribe has got nothing to do with a female’s modesty or her virginity.
It is more of a cultural practice whereby the female going through FGM is entering womanhood. They pride themselves in this practice, and do it willingly. Perhaps the lack of medicine, technology and resources in Northern Kenya has unable the Rendille tribe to come across the risks related to FGM.
The practice of FGM has indeed been declining over the past three decades. According to UNICEF statistics stated, almost 1 in 3 girls aged 15 to 19 today have gone through FGMversus 1 in 2 in the mid-1980s. Also, UNICEF statistics mentioned a rapid decrease among girls aged 15 to 19 has appeared across countries with differing levels of FGM/C prevalence including Burkina Faso, Egypt, Kenya, Liberia and Togo. However, not all the countries in the FGM practice statistics have made progress. Moreover, the rate of decline has been uneven.
Young girls should be educated about the risks involved in the practice. Due to the conservative culture in Asia, it is important to give females who have undergone FGM a platform to speak about their experiences. It is a topic on how and what is the best way to protect the future of the next generation. Perhaps, the future of girls is not protected by having them to go through FGM.
In many communities, FGM is more of a collective decision than an individual one. It is also an individual decision in some communities. Whether it is a collective or an individual decision, the females ought to be educated on the risks related to FGM.
Raise the awareness. Raise your voices.
Maria Khan Safi
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