The recent fatwa by a Jihadi organization in the Middle East has yet again brought to the fore this sensitive issue.
Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female circumcision or female genital cutting, is defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as "all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons".
There are 4 types of FGM in increasing order of barbarism:
1. Clitoridectomy: partial or total removal of the clitoris. Also known as "Sunnah".
2. Excision: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora.
3. Infibulation: excision of part of or all of the external genitals. Afterwards , the remaining parts of the outer lips are sewn together leaving a small hole for urine and menstrual flow. The scar needs to be opened before intercourse or giving birth, which causes additional pain. Also referred to as “Pharaonic Circumcision”.
4. Other: all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia.
It is carried out in girls between infancy and 15 years of age. It is generally performed by traditional midwives, healers, barbers, nurses or doctors without anesthesia and unsterilised equipment.
Although its origins are pre-Islamic, it became associated with Islam because of the religion's focus on female modesty and chastity, and is found only within or near Muslim communities. It is widely practised in African countries- Egypt Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and others; parts of Middle East- Yemen, Oman, Iraq; amongst Bohra Muslims in India and Pakistan; and a few Muslim populations in Malaysia and Indonesia.
Outside Islam, FGM has been practised by the Christian Copts in Egypt and Sudan. It has also been practised by the Beta Israel of Ethiopia. This is the only Jewish group known to have practised it; Judaism requires male circumcision, but does not allow FGM.
The justifications given for this heinous act are aplenty:
- Custom and tradition.
- Religion - No religion advocates FGM. There is no mention of FGM in the Bible or Quran. In 2006, several leading Islamic scholars called for an end to the practice, and in 2007 the Al-Azhar Supreme Council of Islamic Research in Cairo ruled that it has no basis in Islamic law.
- Preservation of virginity and chastity. FGM is believed to reduce a woman's libido and therefore help her resist "illicit" sexual acts. When a vaginal opening is covered or narrowed (type 3 and above), the fear of the pain of opening it, and the fear that this will be found out, is expected to further discourage "illicit" sexual intercourse among women with this type of FGM.
- Social acceptance for marriage.
- Myths - The animist Dogon people of Mali believe that the clitoris confers masculinity on a girl and the foreskin of a boy makes him feminine.
Complications of the procedure have been unable to act as a deterrent.
Immediate complications can include severe pain, shock, bleeding, tetanus or bacterial infection, urine retention, open sores in the genital region and injury to nearby genital tissue.
Long-term consequences can include:
recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections; cysts; infertility; an increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths.
As against female circumcision, male circumcision has religious and scientific acceptance. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that the benefits outweigh the risks in males. There is improved hygiene, lesser chances of urinary infection and sexually transmitted diseases and decreased risk of penile cancer.
FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women.
Every 11 seconds, a girl is mutilated.
"Mama tied a blindfold over my eyes. The next thing I felt my flesh was being cut away. I heard the blade sawing back and forth through my skin. The pain between my legs was so intense I wished I would die."