Cut It Off — Here’s Why India Needs to Ban Female Genital Mutilation

Female Genital Mutilation or FGM involves the removal of the clitoris, the inner and outer lips of the vagina by stapling together the two sides of the vulva, leaving only a small hole to pass urine and menstruate – depending on the type. FGM has no medical basis. Unlike male circumcision, which aids the man in his sexual pleasure, it has no benefits. On the flip side, FGM can lead to severe bleeding, pain, complete loss of sensitivity, complications during childbirth, infertility, severe pain during intercourse, recurring infections and urine retention, PTSD, sexual dysfunction, menstrual obstruction, HIV and sometimes even death.

FGM is practised all over the world, but it is most common in Africa, Asia and the Middle-East. In many western countries like USA, UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, FGM is practised by diaspora populations to uphold their culture and practises. At times, girls, typically between infancy and 15 years of age, undergo FGM. In collectivistic societies, FGM is performed by a woman of the community who most of the times doesn’t have an medical background. Girls undergo FGM without any anesthesia and only a blade is used to perform the procedure. Sometimes, the blade is used for more than one girl, increasing her chance of getting HIV. In some countries, especially in western countries, the procedure is done in hospitals and anaesthesia is administered. But it is all a hush-hush affair.

In 2014, UN banned FGM worldwide. But a ban on FGM, does not stop many communities in performing this procedure. FGM is predominantly practised in Islam, but that doesn’t mean that it is religion specific. A lot of clans in Africa view it as a initiation ceremony for the girls. 90% of the women in Egypt have undergone this painful and inhuman procedure. A lot of people attribute FGM to upholding religious and cultural practises. Notably, FGM is also thought to be performed to curb a woman’s sexual desire, which has emerged as yet another shameful way to reduce women to nothing but sexual objects.

FGM is practised in India too. Women of the Bohra community are still subject to FGM. Three quarters of women among India’s Dawoodi Bohra sect have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM). The Dawoodi Bohra community, a Shi’ite Muslim sect, view it as a religious obligation, even though there is no mention of it in Quran. Instead of traditional circumcisers, girls are now cut in swanky hospitals under anaesthesia. It’s all done in secrecy. The government, even today, refuses to acknowledge this fact. It denies that FGM is practised in India. Even though the UN has banned FGM, there is no Indian law that bans it. There is no legal framework in India that bans FGM and punishes the perpetrators of what can only be seen as a heinous crime against women.

The primary purpose of FGM is to curb a woman’s sexuality. FGM has always been looked at from a medical point of view but never from the a moral perspective. Even the UN has banned FGM because it has no medical basis and that there is no religious significance to it. There is no mention of loss of sexual desire and pleasure. Most of the women who undergo FGM find intercourse painful, many of them don’t enjoy it. As a result, intercourse becomes a matter of procreation, thereby curbing a woman’s drive.

The lack of sex education is one of the major reasons for the prevalence of FGM. There are cultures where a circumcised woman is a prerequisite for marriage. There are men who demand this yet don’t know what FGM means or what it entails. Sex education too only focus on the procreation part and there is no mention about pleasure. Sexual pleasure is never a part of sex education, whereas in reality it is a major motive. Also, traditionally, a man’s pleasure is always valued over a woman’s pleasure. For a woman, good sex entails lack of pain whereas for a man it is the intensity of pleasure obtained. This gender bias has a huge implication in the way sex education curriculum is framed and also in the basis on which the UN banned FGM. A woman’s sexual pleasure was never a perspective while debating a ban on FGM, even though it plays a huge role in why FGM is still practised.

FGM is a gross violation of human rights as it leaves the woman with no control over the decisions made for her own body. The reluctance of the Indian government to recognize that there is a majority chunk that undergoes FGM is a consequence of the patriarchal functioning of the society. FGM is rooted in a patriarchal idea of the desire to control and police women; A woman has always been told to be docile and obedient, it is high time we create a conducive environment for her to take control of her own body. Legally banning FGM in India is a sure shot way to do that.


Picture Credits: MidDay

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