Understanding female genital mutilation: The practice and the issues

FGM refers to the practice of complete or partial removal of female external genitalia, apparently in an attempt to keep their sexual desires under control.

Written by Abantika Ghosh | New Delhi | Updated: May 17, 2017 8:33 am
female genital mutilation, what is female genital mutilation, what is FGM, supreme court, FGM issue, FGM case, female circumcision, Bohra community, WHO, indian express news, india news Days before the Supreme Court action, a hospital in Detroit had sacked a doctor for performing the procedure — not only putting a woman’s health in danger, but also violating her right to her body. (File Photo)

Last week, the Supreme Court issued notices to four ministries on a petition seeking a ban on “female circumcision”. The inhuman practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) — seen in parts of Asia and Africa, including among the 2 million-strong Bohra community in India — is currently in sharp focus worldwide. Days before the Supreme Court action, a hospital in Detroit had sacked a doctor for performing the procedure — not only putting a woman’s health in danger, but also violating her right to her body.

Read | Female genital mutilation: SC notice to Centre, states

What is FGM?

FGM refers to the practice of complete or partial removal of female external genitalia, apparently in an attempt to keep their sexual desires under control. The extent of the practice varies from country to country. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognises four kinds of FGM.

# Type 1: Referred to as clitoridectomy, this is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin that surrounds the clitoris).

# Type 2: Referred to as excision, this is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora (the inner folds of the vulva), with or without excision of the labia majora (the outer folds of the skin of the vulva).

# Type 3: Referred to as infibulation, this is the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora or labia majora, sometimes through stitching, with or without clitoridectomy.

# Type 4: This includes all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.

The procedure is often done without anaesthesia or medical supervision.

In which countries is it practised?

Indonesia and Malaysia have FGM, as do many African countries. It is in Africa that the practice is more severe, and from where it came to the attention of the international community and the WHO.

In India, the Bohras — not just Dawoodi Bohras but other sects too — practise FGM. There are no authentic Indian statistics about the number of Indian victims, but activists say 80%-90% of Bohra girls are subject to the process, sometimes at the hands of ill-equipped traditional circumcisers attending childbirth. Only Types 1 and 4 are practised in India, and is called khatna.

The WHO estimates that more than 200 million girls and women alive today have been subjected to the practice in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

What problems can FGM cause?

There are grave health repercussions. In the short-term, there may be pain, excessive bleeding, fever, infections, shock, or even death. In the long term, there may be urinary or vaginal problems, pain during intercourse, and complications at childbirth. Correcting the damage may need surgery. The petition in the Supreme Court says: “The practice of ‘khatna’ or ‘FGM’ or ‘Female Circumcision’ or ‘khafd’ also amounts to causing inequality between the sexes and constitutes discrimination against women. Since it is carried out on minors, it amounts to serious violation of the rights of children as even minors have a right of security of person, right to privacy, bodily integrity and the freedom from cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment… It violates the rights of the child and human rights. It also violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is a crime in the Unites States of America under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 and now a crime in Australia and some other countries as well.”

How has the global campaign against FGM progressed?

In recent years, FGM has been talked about much more. An online campaign called ‘Speak Out on FGM’, a film called A Pinch of Skin, featuring recorded voices of victims, and a clutch of reports around the world have spread information on its horrors. The WHO has made it clear that FGM has no health benefits. Activists point out that khatna is not a practice mandated by religion. However, in June 2016, the public relations department of the Syedna, the religious leader of the Bohras, issued a press release saying that FGM would continue in countries that did not have anti-FGM laws.

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  1. M
    May 19, 2017 at 11:49 pm
    Female genitalia mutilation was geared to have a "peaceful" grip over women (reducing their ual desire) when Islam sanctions four wives to a man, which again escalates to many wives using the revolving door of Tripple Talaq! Very primitive idea. How this idea-could be sanctioned by God, when the "all powerful" God could have created women differently, if it was really in his book. First created it the less powolerful "gives" man the "power" to correct it! Very strange God indeed! Isn't it the men bribing themselves with "incentives" to reward each other to terrorism first women and then go on a terrain spree to terrier people of other faiths (building up on experience in first instance)?
    1. G
      gc rv
      May 18, 2017 at 3:04 pm
      Bhoras in India are less than 1 of Muslims in India. Probably less than 6 lakh of which 3 lakh women their girl baby rate is probably less than 1 of their population is 6000 girl child born every year. Probably 5000 are cir cised each year. In future this may reduce in real terms and term. With millions of girl babies aborted by Hindus this is a problem which gives rich political dividends to anti Muslim parties.
      1. D
        May 17, 2017 at 1:50 pm
        Gift of desert cult to humanity-cir cission. Shame on sullas.
        1. S
          May 17, 2017 at 1:47 pm
          Such inhuman, medieval, barbaric practices are still continuing in India .It's grave injustice perpetutated to half population by some communities against the law of nature in the garb of religion or customs and practises.This was direct attack on person's fundamental right, right under the nose of its protector(Judiciary).What the four pillar of democracy was doing in seven decades.It must be stopped and laws shpuld be brought to stop this practises based on some ill conceived notions ,beliefs and arguments.A person's Liberty over its body must be given priority over medieval,barbaric practises.
          1. R
            May 17, 2017 at 1:52 pm
            what about inhuman, medieval, barbaric practices like dev-dassi - dalit girls used by temple priests
            1. R
              May 17, 2017 at 5:26 pm
              ख़त्म कर रहे हैं उसको . और अपने असली नाम से कमेंट कर मा-दर- मुसली कीड़े
              1. G
                May 18, 2017 at 11:18 am
                My dear friend, every inhuman practice has to be banned, no matter who practise them.
            2. B
              Bhagavath B S
              May 17, 2017 at 12:31 pm
              why indian courts are entertaining such cases,just ban and take action against this barbaric system,one day Muslim intercourse, procedure are also going to come up in courts, Muslims and Islams are a group of notorious male dominated considering Muslim women are child producing machine, why court waste time on such issues,let them go to hell,who minds, SC /HC can take up the Ram mandir construction case and give verdict for temple construction is a welcome matter?
              1. J
                May 17, 2017 at 12:52 pm
                they are out of senses becoz VEDIC period cannot come back - change is most certain thing in life - brahmins cannot be masters forever - then why brahmin savarkar could not escape jail - can u remove as@aram from jail - why waste SC time on mythology - go home and sleep
                1. R
                  May 17, 2017 at 5:27 pm
                  चुप कर के कीड़े
              2. J
                May 17, 2017 at 12:06 pm
                somebody have guts to stop male cir cision compulsorily done to all in jews in Israel - even during hitler massacre newborn jews were cir scribed by their mothers
                1. R
                  May 17, 2017 at 5:28 pm
                  चुप कर भोस-डी के. चू-त में सु-अर का
                2. S
                  May 17, 2017 at 12:00 pm
                  even CUTTING HAIR is mutilation - thats why sikhs muslims jews many traditional christians keep scalp face hair - stop mutilation by hindus
                  1. S
                    May 17, 2017 at 11:58 am
                    removing ones KIDNEY and giving or transplanting to other - is it not mutilation - oh it is painless - and saves somebody life but person giving kidney can run and cant do heavy work - when GOD given two kidneys why remove one -
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