COVER STORY

SAVING THE GIRL CHILD FROM FGM

SAVING THE GIRL CHILD FROM FGM

Zero Tolerance Against Female Genital Mutilation Is Need Of Hour Writes Neeti Jha

About 120 to 140 million women have been subject to FGM and 3 million girls are at risk each year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). FGM relates to 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. This practice is an abuse of human rights and causes serious health complications, including fatal bleeding. The UN first officially commemorated the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation on February 6, 2003. It continues to fight against FGM through a range of activities in addition to the observance.

LET’S UNDERSTAND WHAT FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION IS

Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for nonmedical reasons and is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. UNFPA, jointly with UNICEF, leads the largest global programme to accelerate the abandonment of FGM. The programme currently focuses on 17 African countries and also supports regional and global initiatives. Female Genital Mutilation is a nonmedical procedure comprising partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, including the clitoris. And one might’ve thought Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is not prevalent in India anymore but as it turns out, that’s far from true. According to a report by Sahiyo, it was found a medical clinic in Kozhikode (Calicut) where two doctors admitted that they perform the procedure of ‘sunnath’, or circumcision, on both boys and girls. The investigation was conducted when Sahiyo got a tip about the clinic.

In Sunnath, girls as young as 6-9 years of age are forced to go through the painful, life-threatening procedure. In India, only the Dawoodi Bohra community was believed to be practicing this ancient technique. But a recent investigation by Aarefa Johari and Aysha Mahmood from Sahiyo, a collective fighting against FGM, revealed that a community in Kerala has been following this practice as well. According to a report by WHO, more than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is concentrated.

“Harmful traditions exist in many different forms, but they share origins in the historically unequal social and economic relationships between men and women. Female genital cutting, early marriage and childbearing, and gender bias have received global attention due to their severe, negative impact on the health and well-being of females”, says Sahar Khan, student of University of Delhi. FGM, which involves the partial or complete removal of the genitalia, is a crime because it is abhorrent by any measure. It subjugates women, makes intercourse extremely difficult and painful, and can be the cause of a number of serious medical  complications, including not only haemorrhage but also urinary retention, urinary infection, wound infection, and septicaemia.

WHY IS FGM PRACTISED? 

The motivations and justifications given vary and often overlap. Among them are: Controlling female sexuality: FGM has been closely associated with the control of female sexuality. According to the World Health Organisation, in different cultures, some believe the procedure curbs women’s sexual urges, and thereby increases the likelihood of them remaining virgins until they are married. Religion: FGM is practised within both Muslim and Christian communities, as well as by followers of some indigenous religions. Although neither Islam nor Christianity endorse it, religious doctrine is often used to justify it. Social obligation: Partly because of its association with religion, many societies consider FGM an essential part of raising a girl and preparing her for womanhood and marriage. With its direct link to beliefs about premarital virginity and marital fidelity, the social pressure to adhere to the practice can be intense. Economic factors: And because of these associations, in many communities, FGM is a prerequisite for marriage. In places where women may be financially dependent on marriage, economics can become a justification for FGM. Aesthetics: In some communities, the practice is presented as a form of beautification.

FORMS OF FGM

According to the World Health Organization there are four main categories:

  • Type I: Often referred to as clitoridectomy, is the removal of the clitoral hood only
  • Type II: Also known as excision, is the removal of the clitoris and the labia minora (inner vaginal lips)
  • Type III: Also referred to as infibulation consists in the removal of all the woman’s external genitalia and the narrowing of the vaginal entrance.
  • Type IV: This includes all other invasive procedures on female genitalia for nonmedical purposes, including pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterising

Female Genital Mutilation reflects deeprooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women and girls. The practice also violates their rights to health, security and physical integrity, their right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and their right to life when the procedure results in death. To promote the abandonment of FGM, coordinated and systematic efforts are needed, and they must engage whole communities and focus on human rights and gender equality. These efforts should emphasize societal dialogue and the empowerment of communities to act collectively to end the practice. They must also address the sexual and reproductive health needs of women and girls who suffer from its consequences. The International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation is a global observance but sadly what is ignored is the fact Genital mutilation is not just a practice amongst the female but also with the males as well.

Similar is the practice of Male Genital Mutilation referred to as ‘male circumcision’, comprises all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external male genitalia or other injury to the male genital organs. So on ‘International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation’ let’s pledge to get rid of any kind of genital mutilation, be it female or male.