“After 30 years of attempts to eradicate a barbaric practice, it continues. Time to try a new approach which would be acceptance of a lesser form of FGM, a mere nick or a prick of the clitoris in a medicalised manner.”
This is the gist of an article published by The Economist recently, titled: An Agonising Choice.
We – Speak Out on FGM – a group of women survivors of FGM from the Bohra community, find this downright appalling. We are deeply upset by the ideologically and socially dangerous implications of the article.
The article refers to the African practice of infibulations (in which the vaginal lips and external parts of the clitoris are removed, and the vagina stitched almost closed) which causes enormous harm – and in extreme cases death. It suggests that, “instead of trying to stamp FGM out entirely, governments should ban the worst forms, permit those that cause no long-lasting harm and try to persuade parents to choose the least nasty version”.
Why The Economist’s Suggestion Does Not Work
The type of FGM (1 and 4) suggested as acceptable by the author is precisely what happens in our community.
As survivors of this practice, such a suggestion diminishes our struggle against secrecy and patriarchal norms. It also comes across as disrespectful to the physical and psychological harm the practice of khatna/ FGM/C has done to women of the Bohra community, and women from other communities and countries – be it in Indonesia, Malayasia, Africa – who have undergone the cut, and continue to do so.
We find this practice extremely physically invasive and psychologically damaging.
There have been cases where it has caused deep emotional damage between the daughter and the mother as it comes to signify a deep breach of trust. There have also been cases of physical complications because the prick actually turned out to be much more than that – as well as deep psychological concerns caused in women about sex and sexual relations which have hampered many a marriage.
FGM in any format is a form of child abuse as it is done on minors without consent, in secret. There can be and will be no excuse to legitimise such an abhorrent practice in any way. To say “medicalise it, just try it.” is reckless and dangerous.
Our whole fight is against the act and the idea behind the act. The author suggests reducing the severity of the act (as in cases of infibulations) to a mere “nick” – but the fact is, the idea behind FGM still remains.
It still remains a part of our psyche that the woman has to be controlled and curbed. That a woman and her sexuality are the main reasons of all problems in marriage and society and have to be contained.
Ban FGM in India: Say 50,000 Supporters
We are not tribals living in the villages of Africa – a community that the article focuses on. FGM exists and thrives outside of Africa as well. We Bohras belong to a community where women are exposed to higher education and are working in the public sphere. In a globalised world, therefore, efforts to end FGM – of ALL types – have to be made at a parallel level throughout.
The movement against FGM may be fraught with difficulties as is the case for any social change or reform – but let us not forget that more than 23 countries in Africa alone have passed strong anti FGM laws and these nations are today grappling this issue.
In a previous article published by The Economist, the later had cited:
The practice has declined in more than half the countries UNICEF looked at, but most dramatically where it was already rarer. In the Central African Republic the share of women in the 15-49 age group who had been mutilated dropped from 43% in 1995 to 24% in 2010. In a few countries new data suggest the practice is all but eliminated. In the countries where it is most common, however, such as Egypt and Sudan, the prevalence has hardly changed.
Yet, your latest article says that the process of change and ending FGM is taking too long – hence lesser harmful forms should be promoted. In India the government and the people have been fighting against practices like child marriage and female foeticide since decades. Despite severe laws, these practices continue, does that mean we should abandon our goals or reduce and lessen our goals?
We have already garnered over 50,000 supporters for a ban on FGM in India. There are hundreds of men and women who have pledged not to cut their daughters in our community as a result of our campaign. Even religious leaders like Syedna Taher Fakhruddin have openly come out with statements opposing khatna of the girl child.
By calling for a so called “symbolic” act to be allowed as FGM, The Economist is harming a very healthy democratic movement of women survivors and providing ammunition to those who want the status quo to continue.
Already, the article is being circulated by the pro FGM Bohras as vindication of their views.
(Masooma Ranalvi is Convenor, Speak Out On FGM)