Female Genital Mutilation:
A violation of a woman’s most basic Right to Health
“My two sisters, myself and our mother went to visit our family back home. I assumed we were going for a holiday. A bit later they told us that we were going to be infibulated. The day before our operation was due to take place, another girl was infibulated and she died because of the operation. We were so scared and didn’t want to suffer the same fate. But our parents told us it was an obligation, so we went. We fought back; we really thought we were going to die because of the pain. You have one woman holding your mouth so you won’t scream, two holding your chest and the other two holding your legs. After we were infibulated, we had rope tied across our legs so it was like we had to learn to walk again. We had to try to go to the toilet. If you couldn’t pass water in the next 10 days something was wrong. We were lucky, I suppose. We gradually recovered and didn’t die like the other girl. But the memory and the pain never really go away.” –Zainab, who was infibulated at the age of 8 (from WHO) [Source: Female Genital Mutilation by Comfort Momoh]
I woke up to the term Female Genital Mutilation when a leading daily carried an article on the same. I must admit that I was quite unaware that such a practice exists. The figures mentioned were staggering, It said an estimated 100 -140 million girls and women alive today are supposed to have been ‘cut’ when young, just like Zainab. The article went to say that it is predominantly practiced in Sub-Saharan Africa, Arab States and some ethnic groups in Asia, ofcourse I said, aren’t most of these places still ages away from Urbanizations , have high levels illiteracy and a history of questionable ethnic rituals? So imagine my shock and horror when the very next line mentioned that this is also practiced in India, in the very heart of Mumbai!
So what is Female Genital Mutilation? Brace yourself then, here it is – The practice of partially or completely removing the clitoris or causing injury to other female genital organs. In some forms of FGM, called infibulation, vaginal orifice is narrowed with a covering seal. These women have to be cut open on their wedding nights and then again during child birth. And why would you do that? Because it is widely believed that cutting off the clitoris would control the sexual urges of a women, so she can be a virgin at time of marriage and will be loyal to her husband thereafter, the ‘Good Girl’ syndrome basically.
This inhuman practice is mostly carried out on girls aged 0-15 years, by elderly women in the community or birth attendants and at times even by barbers. Not only does this practice have serious implications with respect to the sexual and reproductive health of the women in the long run, depending on the expertise and levels of hygiene maintained while performing the operation, this can cause immediate hemorrhage, ulceration, septicemia, infections and may even result in death. Unless this is performed by medical practitioners, local anesthesia is not used; the resultant pain and shock can also trigger behavioral disturbances in young girls. Even if performed by medical practitioners, the procedure is still unsafe since it puts women at an increased risk of HIV infection and also leads to complications during childbirth.
Seeped in Gender inequality, FGM is an extreme form of violence against women which has devastating repercussions. It denies them the most basic human right to sexual and reproductive health. In 2012 the United National general assembly passed a resolution to intensify global efforts to eliminate female genital mutilation. Easier said than done, given that it is a deeply ingrained cultural practice. In fact the United Nations Population Fund while projecting the number of women affected by it recognizes the fact that the actual numbers might be much higher than reported because of the reluctance of people to talk about it.
A classic example in this is case is the practice of FGM among the Bohra community in India, which till a few years back was a well-kept secret, given the reluctance of women to talk about it since it is perceived as a religious practice. While the practice predates to the rise of Christianity and Islam, there is however a raging debate on whether any of these religion promote it or not since it is not practiced universally and quite a few religious leaders have condemned it as well. However the religious color given to the practice and also the fact that this is mostly prevalent in communities with poor education levels and where violence against women in an accepted norm, eliminating this practice becomes a mammoth task. It needs all Government agencies of affected countries to work together and calls for designing programs which takes into account the ethnic and cultural nuances and targets local communities.
With increasing urbanization and rising education levels amongst women, it can be hoped that this inhuman practice can be eliminated. Given the efforts being carried out across the world to end FGM, the UNFPA is hopeful that by 2020, 4 million girls can be prevented from experiencing it. Let’s not however make the mistake of assuming that its upto the Government agencies of the world to eradicate this. The onus lies on us too.
2 magic words – Speak Up! If you are a victim Speak up! Create awareness, influence your families and educate your young daughters. If you are fortunate enough to not have experienced it, Speak up! Talk about it on all platforms and encourage others to speak about it. If you are a Man, Speak up! Against the practice and help create enough noise.
I cannot sum this up better than Dahoba Ali Muse, a Somali poet and a survivor of FGM herself:
‘And now I appeal:
I appeal for love lost, for dreams broken,
For the right to live as a whole human being.
I appeal to all peace loving people to protect, to support
And give a hand to innocent little girls, who do no harm,
Obedient to their parents and elders, all they know is only smiles.
Initiate them to the world of love,
Not to the world of feminine sorrow!’
This article is written by the writer for 6th Women Scream Art and Poetry Festival, Kolkata Chapter.
About the writer:
A Management post graduate, Esha Chakraborty lives in New Delhi and works with a leading BPO. She reviews books on her blog, http://www.bookhippo.wordpress.com. Her first published short story ‘The Stone Hearted Husband’ is featured in Sankarak. She is a contributing author in ‘Defiant Dreams’. In between writing stories she is currently working on her upcoming food blog, World in a Wok.
For more information on Women Scream please visit the following pages:
Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/WomanScreamFest/?fref=ts
Rhythm Divine Poets in association with Art Fair celebrates the strength of woman on the occasion of woman’s month in March by promoting art and poetry festival in the city of kolkata. To raise voice against violence on woman is the mutual goal. These associations will lead to Rhythm Divine coordinating Kolkata chapter of the global event called Woman Scream International Poetry and Art Festival on 26th March by Women Poets International Movement (Mujeres Poetas Internacional MPI) from the Dominican Republic, and coordinated by Jael Uribe, MPI’s President.
The Kolkata chapter is co-sponsored by Incredible Women of India, Manya Education Pvt Limited and The Princeton Review hosted by the Berlia family in Kolkata.
Print partner SIBCO Overseas Pvt Ltd and Admakers
Gift sponsored by Readomania
Radio Partner Radio One 94.3FM
Online Web media partner Incredible Woman of India and Calcalling
Print Partner News Beat
Online media and literary partner Readomania, Learning and Creativity and Being Bookworms
Partnered by Hamari Sanskriti, Wordsurfacing and Ahava Communications