Female Genital Mutilation – An Open Secret.
Sadly this is an age where gender base violence has been common practice more than crime. Just when I was going through my daily dose of enlightenment of rapes, acid attacks, sexual harassment, domestic violence and many others I stumbled upon the words Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) – a horrendous practice exercising since ages in various countries of Africa and Asia. Also known as female circumcision, it is a ritual removal of all or some of the external female genitalia (vulva) and I was the least surprised to know that it is practiced in India as well.
What’s appalling is that such acts are conducted for religious reasons. Girls at the tender age of 10 are subjected to this medically unethical operation where their vagina is cut into a narrow seal to allow only urine and menstrual blood to pass through (that too in small slow drops). They are cut with sharp and unsterile objects like knives, razors, scissors and broken mirrors by an ‘uneducated but literate woman’ of the community who has taken this practice for a profession.
The operation is monitored and supported by the mothers of the girls who have gone through the same. There is no question of using anaesthesia as excruciating pain is a part of the process. The surgery takes place wherever convenient, from out in the open to a bathroom floor. It doesn’t end there. Hours later the girl is taken to her wedding night for her first sexual experience with her husband who finally accepts her ‘purity’.
It all started in ancient Africa where men used to go for hunting for months leaving their spouses behind. In order to curb the risk of women engaging in adultery and promiscuity they cut their spouses clitoris in order to reduce the women’s sexual desire and libido.
This cruel act is designed and conducted to enhance male sexual pleasure only. Women who have been circumcised do not enjoy sex rather they experience pain and shock. Other complications include vaginal and pelvic infections, unhealthy pregnancy and childbirth, sexual dysfunction, menstrual abnormalities and psychological damages. In most cases girls are subjected to this before or after attaining puberty. In some cases babies undergo FGM when they are just 40 days old. Hence some girls don’t even survive the surgery.
More than 100 million women have gone through this brutal act till date. Twenty eight countries in Africa besides Middle-East and Asia practice FGM. Almost half of all fathers and one-third of all mothers want their daughters to be circumcised for a respectable status and peaceful living in their communities. Yes patriarchy is a big issue here. The act is conducted in secrecy and women chose not to talk about it.
In India FGM is widely practiced by the Dawoodi Bohra community who have originated from the Shafi community in Egypt. Typically elder Bohra women beyond the age of 60 take up this profession which they have inherited from the family. The surgery is referred to as ‘Khatna’.
This act of mutilating a woman’s genitals so that she could be ‘free’ or ‘pure’ for her spouse and in turn enhance his sexual pleasure is a question we need to debate on. In an age where we treat our daughters equally like our sons and encourage the empowerment of women globally we need to know that there are many women and girls who are still living under the veil of ignorance and fear, whose very existence is based on the dictates and dominance of their religion and community.