The Blade Hurts Down There! – Female Genital Mutilation

How many of us know about this cruel practice that is being practiced in different parts of the world, including India? This topic is not even known to most of the people due to lack of awareness. Currently, Sudan has passed a law to completely ban this practice.1However; India does not have laws to control this social evil. It is high time that India should too pass a law to curb the practice since it is still practiced in certain parts of the country.

What exactly is Female Genital Mutilation?

Female Genital Mutilation is a practice in which the external female genitalia is completely or partially removed for non-medical purposes, with the help of razors, glass or any sharp instrument and then the remaining skin is stitched together leaving a little hole for the purpose of urination and menstruation. It is also known as circumcision of females. ‟Female circumcision‟ has been abandoned as critics of the procedures felt it conferred the greater „respectability‟ of male circumcision.2 An estimated 200 million girls and women alive today are believed to have been subjected to FGM and rates of FGM are increasing. Girls and women who have undergone FGM live predominately in sub-Saharan Africa and the Arab States, but FGM is also practiced in select countries in Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America. It is also practiced among the countries such as Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand where there is migrated population.

Types of FGM

According to World Health Organization (WHO), there are four main types of FGM-4

  1. In the first type there is partial or complete removal of the clitoris.
  2. In the second type, there is partial or complete removal of the clitoris along with labia minora. This can be done with or without the removal of labia majora.
  3. In the third type, the “vaginal orifice” is narrowed by manual creating a seal by cutting the “labia minora” or “labia majora” by removal of clitoris.
  4. In the last and fourth type, all the non- medical procedures are included such as by piercing or “pricking” or through “scraping” or “cauterization”

Why is it practiced?

Certain cultural and religious reasons are attached to this practice. This practice is widely relevant in African region and some parts of Middle East. People have reasoned the practice to be necessary to protect the purity or virginity of the girl, so that she can stay virgin till her marriage. In many such societies it is believed that uncircumcised girls would bring shame upon the family. Some believe that it is obligatory upon them to perform such a ritual as it is a custom of their religion. This practice is also followed by many Muslims and Christians, even though there is no evidence of it in the holy book Quran or Bible.5Some people do not even know why they are forcing their daughters for such ritual but does it because it practiced by others in their tribe or community. This practice is more based on customs of a particular community or tribe rather than a religious belief. However, many believe that they are under a religious obligation for such a practice. Such notions and ideologies develop when there is lack of education and awareness.

How is it practiced?

FGM is commonly practiced by untrained midwives or elderly women using scissors, scalpels, and pieces of glass or razor blades without using Anesthesia. The girl is cut with blades or razors and then stitched back with thorns, threads and is immobilized for weeks.

What is the impact of FGM on Women?

There are grave effects of FGM on women, including excruciating pain to sometimes infections like HIV. Women in rural areas are more prone to infections than in urban areas due to the fact that in rural areas the same razor or the instrument which has been used to perform FGM on one girl/woman is used for multiple women.6 Women who have undergone FGM also face complications at the time of child births. There have been reports of deaths of women while delivery, who have been circumcised.

Global measures to curb FGM

We see that on International level, United Nations has adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be completed by 2030.7 Out of these 17 SDGs, the targets of Goal 5 aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women; including eliminating harmful practices such as Female Genital Elimination. United Nations in 2012 adopted a resolution with the majority of two-thirds of the members to ban FGM worldwide.8 UNICEF and UNFPA are constantly working to create awareness and trying to eliminate FGM by working with the governments and organizations/societies in these countries.

Legal Position of FGM in India

FGM is prevalent in India in Dawoodi Bohra Community, a sect of Shia Muslims in India.9 Despite being such a gross practice, there are no laws in India to curb this practice. A petition was filed against this practice to decide whether this practice violates human rights of women along with right to privacy and right to life.10 Moreover to decide whether this practice enjoys immunity under articles 25 and 26 of the Indian Constitution? The matter has been referred to the Constitution bench which will decide if a ban should be placed on this inhumane practice or not.

What can be done?

Putting a total ban on such practices would encourage the people to practice them secretly and thereby promoting it more. Apart from the laws, the essential thing to eliminate this oppression is education and awareness. Leaders of the communities should be made to understand the ill effects of such practice and to influence the community members. Educating people about right and wrong plays a very important role in framing a society.

Conclusion

Women have always been a victim of oppression, be it in any form, like the denial of entry in temple, being regarded as weak or making them undergo such practices. We need to go a long way to stop such practices; consistent efforts and education can only save the women from undergoing such horrifying experience. If a country like Sudan can ban such a painful practice why not a country like India which is regarded as a country promoting equal rights for women and conforming to International treaties for protection for civil rights, gender equality and women‟s health can ban such a practice? We can only hope and recommend that positive steps need to be taken in the direction to eliminate these violations of human rights by such practices.

1 “Sudan criminalizes female genital mutilation( FGM)”, (May 1,2020) available at https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-52502489, (last visited on August 23,2020).
2“ Ritual Genital Cutting of Female Minors”, Committee on Bioethics Pediatrics May 2010, 125 (5) 1088-1093, available at https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/125/5/1088/tab-e-letters
3United Nations Population Fund (UNPF). (2010, December). Female genital mutilation (FGM) frequently asked questions, available at unfpa.org/resources/female-genital-mutilation-fgm-frequently-asked- questions#medicalization of fgm,(last visited on August 22,2020).
4“Eliminating Female genital mutilation”, An interagency statement, World Health Organization (2008) available at https://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/csw/csw52/statements_missions/Interagency_Statement_on_Eliminating_FG M.pdf , (last visited on August 23,2020).
5 Rouzi, Abdulrahim,” Facts and controversies on female genital mutilation and Islam”, The European journal of contraception & reproductive health care: the official journal of the European Society of Contraception, (Jan 4, 2013) available at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/234049160_Facts_and_controversies_on_female_genital_mutilation_and_I slam#read.
6 “What is female genital mutilation?” Medical News Today (March 15,2017) available at https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/241726.php#human_rights (last visited on August 24,2020).
7World Health Organization, UN Agencies Call for End to Female Genital Mutilation. Geneva, Switzerland; World Health Organization; 1997
8 “UN General Assembly Adopts Worldwide Ban on Female Genital Mutilation”, No Peace Without Justice, (December 20, 2012) available at http://www.npwj.org/FGM/UN-General-Assembly-AdoptsWorldwide– Ban-Female-Genital-Mutilation.html (last visited on August 25, 2020).
9“Female Genital Mutilation in India”, Amnesty International, available at https://amnesty.org.in/female-genital- mutilation-in-India/ (last visited on August 25, 2020).
10 Female genital mutilation petition pending before Supreme Court”, Hindustan Times (November 15, 2019) available at https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/female-genital-mutilation-petition-pending-before-supreme– court/story-rsHGOLu0z5eEg3aZjHYEIL.html (last visited on August 25, 2020).

Author: Iqra Khan, Law Student at Jamia Millia Islamia,New Delhi.

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