Female Genital Mutilation or FGM is defined by the WHO as “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”. It is recognised as a violation of the human rights of women and girls. Very young girls are forced to undergo this brutal process in many parts of the world.
Consequences of FGM
FGM or excision has long term consequences – some of the side-effects like repeated bladder and Urinary tract infections, cysts, infertility, childbirth complications and risk of life to the newborn. In reality the woman who undergoes the procedure suffers all her life. Women who have been infibulated have to be cut open to have intercourse or to give birth to a baby. Thus makes the risk of infection terribly high.
In which countries is FGM prevalent?
More than 125 million mutilated girls alive reside in 29 countries of Africa and the Middle East. Infant girls and females up to the age of 15 are subjected to this ritual. It is performed by traditional ‘cutters’ who are presented with expensive rewards. Often crude knives, razor blades and glass are used to cut the genitals of these girls. If this is not appalling enough, the ‘operations’ are performed without anesthesia under conducted in extremely unhygienic conditions. Victims experience immense pain for the rest of their lives unless medically treated otherwise.
Is FGM legal?
No it is not. The UN has vehemently condemned the ritual. An increasing number of African countries have also declared it illegal to perform such surgeries. Even so, the practice persists. Communities claim that the practice is a matter of cultural pride. It ensures the virginity amongst females, suppresses sexual desire and are the hall mark of purity in a bride. The reality is that it is none of these things. It is actually another aspect of male dominance in society.
The European Union has specific laws criminalizing. Unfortunately such laws are insufficient. Most of these rituals take place in an underground manner. The girls themselves are reluctant to step out and state their case for fear of being ostracized and stigmatized. If caught, the victim’s parents and the cutters can get 20 years in jail or can be fined up to €1,50,000.
Breaking the Silence
It is imperative that women shed their inhibitions and discuss their plight openly – without shame or taboo. They must seek medical opinion and treatment. As a matter of fact Dr Pierre Foldes, a French doctor has been giving thousands of victims of FGM, a new lease of life. He is considered to be a pioneer in this field. He operates on 50 women a month ands has a waiting list of 800 patients. His main focus is to restore normal physical status for afflicted women.
It is heartening to see that women are not afraid to speak out against this practice.
The Bohra community in India practices Khatna – classified by WHO as type 1 FGM. Physicians witching the community are granted licenses by the religious clergy to carry out the ritual. Women are fearful of voicing their disagreement with the practice for fear of being ostracized. However in December 2015, Masooma Ranalvi, an activist, launched an online petition asking the Indian government to end the practice. 17 Bohra women put their names on the petition and gathered 45000 signatures. February 6, 2016 was celebrated as the International Day Of Zero Tolerance for FGM. A campaign titled Each One Reach One was launched on this day urging everyone to break their silence against Khatna.
Shaheeda Tavavalla-Kirtane and Aarefa Johari co-founded a group Sahiyo – meaning friends in Bohra Gujarati from within the community. They got together and conducted an online survey in July 2015, the first of its kind, to determine the extent to which Khatna is prevalent. The data is still under study.
In a validating judgement, three Bohras, were found guilty of FGM in Australia, where the practice is illegal. The three men are facing court charges. The Australian court is currently holding hearings to decide upon the punishment for the trio. Subsequently, the Bohra authorities of Australia have issued a notice asking all Bohras in the country not to perform Khatna on girls any more. Good news indeed for the movement!
Apart from the physical mutilation, FGM has far reaching and complex mental repercussions.
The victims lose the ability to distinguish between good and bad people because it is their parents themselves who have conducted this ritual on their bodies.
Secondly, the cost of reconstructive surgery is high and most women are not able to afford the treatment. This leads to depression amongst these women.
Thirdly, these women pay a very high emotional price. Three bodies are violated and the helplessness this brings about is a life long source of pain and feeling incomplete.
A holistic approach is needed to tackle the multi dimensional fallouts of FGM. Psychologists, sexologists, lawyers, psychiatrists, nurses, social workers and support groups all need to get together to approach this debilitating issue.