While FGM is widely recognised as a public health issue, it is most importantly a child rights issue and is in violation of a domestic and international law
- Asiff Hussein disturbingly champions FGM for its apparent benefits such as facilitating genital hygiene and improving sex life
- Case studies from around the world have shown how deeply traumatic and scarring the process of FGM is on young girls
Over the past few years, activists and researchers have been explicitly highlighting the existence of the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Sri Lanka.
Practised discreetly in small communities, reports show that it has affected women across a number of generations, primarily from the Bohra community, and in Moor and Malay communities, to a lesser extent.
FGM is defined by the World Health Organisation as “All procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or another injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”
FGM is widely recognized as a violation of women’s and girls’ human rights, affecting their right to health, physical integrity, and a life free of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
That FGM is done to control a woman’s sexuality is well documented and echoes the narratives of Sri Lankan women we have spoken to between the ages of 25 and 60. ...
Following years of advocacy, women affected by FGM in Sri Lanka successfully lobbied the State to issue a circular earlier this year, prohibiting medical practitioners from carrying out this practice, thus ensuring at the very least that it is not state-sanctioned.
I was deeply concerned to read the publication of an opinion piece titled Female Circumcision: An Islamic practice brings untold benefits to women in this paper on September, 18 in support of the practice of FGM for Muslim women and girls.
The author, Asiff Hussein, disturbingly champions FGM for its apparent benefits such as “Facilitating genital hygiene and improving sex life.”
The author fails to cite any medical or scientific research to support this conclusion, instead relying on presumptions that FGM will have the same ‘benefits’ as male circumcision. In respect to his harmful and ill-substantiated argument, I would refer Mr Hussein to extensive global studies of the practice as well as international normative standards which classify FGM as a harmful practice and a human rights violation.
Case studies from around the world have shown how deeply traumatic and scarring the process of FGM is on young girls. Case studies from Sri Lanka submitted to the National Child Protection Authority, the Human Rights Commission and to representatives in parliament support this evidence.
What Mr Hussein refers to as “a relatively minor and harmless procedure” is described by survivors of FGM as following:
“I don’t have a memory of my mother in the room, maybe it’s something I’ve blocked out, or maybe she was upset at what was going to happen and didn’t stay in. I do remember though two or more people holding down my legs. I’m not sure if I was screaming or protesting, I don’t have a memory about this....but I do remember there being a pain, extreme pain, unbearable pain. Throughout all this my aunt was by my side all along, obviously comforting me. My next memory of the day was arriving home, I do remember there being discomfort between my legs.” -Sri Lankan Muslim woman aged approximately 50.
“The first thing I remember after [the procedure] was a cloying and horrid smell of something, which I cannot forget to this day, of dried blood and some yellow colour ointment. And then the excruciating pain every time I wanted to pee. The smell, the clotting, and the pain being there for a week, and it seemed like there was nothing that could be done about it. As a child, I guess one does not ask why. And how I felt defiled at what they had done to me and that would I ever be ok again.” Sri Lankan Muslim woman aged approximately 40.
“I refuse to call it circumcision since what was done to me was no mere “prick”, “nick” or ‘cut”. I did not realize the extent of the damage until I got married. My wedding night turned out to be an extremely painful experience, and the pain has not gone away. I was initially in denial since I could not remember the procedure, done when I turned seven by a qualified doctor at his clinic in Sri Lanka, as being traumatic in any way. But later I thought to connect the two and got myself examined by a gynaecologist. I was then told that part of my genitalia had been extracted and the exposed nerves had become super sensitive and thus painful to the touch.”
Sri Lankan Muslim woman aged approximately 40.
(These and other testimonials have been previously published in Ceylon Today, December 12, 2017)
An article published in Reuters (November 2017) delves further into the issues highlighted in the testimonials, while an article in Al Jazeera (November 2017) examines the implications and community power relations regarding the practice of FGM:
“That FGM is done to control a woman’s sexuality is well documented and echoes the narratives of Sri Lankan women we have spoken to between the ages of 25 and 60. These women have bravely testified to the lasting harm and trauma caused by their childhood experiences of being cut, despite great fear about the social and personal consequences of doing so.
“Supporters of FGM have been loud and vehement. They are community gatekeepers who hold power and authority and are often male. Their insistence on the cultural practice is an attempt to trump the voices of women saying they have been hurt and don’t want it done to any other child.”
I find it curious and disturbing that Mr Hussein cannot make a distinction between a child (a minor), and adult women.
In fact, he refers to “Western women, especially American women” undergoing such procedures to “lead satisfactory sex lives” in order to justify the genital mutilation of Muslim girl children.
Surely Mr Hussein is not unaware of the concept of informed consent?
He is advocating for harmful procedures on girl children that may have (unproven) potential sexual “benefits” for them as grown women.
I, believing in the autonomy of women, am quite certain that adult women are capable of making a choice about increasing or decreasing their sexual pleasure at their leisure, and can do so through available medical services to which they can freely consent.
Imposing this practice on a girl child who cannot consent to it, and furthermore sexualizing her body in such a way, is deeply disturbing.
While FGM is widely recognised as a public health issue, it is most importantly a child rights issue and is in violation of a domestic and international law.
He refers to “Western women, especially American women” undergoing such procedures to “lead satisfactory sex lives” in order to justify the genital mutilation of Muslim girl children.
For instance, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in Article 24(3) directs to “Take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children.” Sri Lanka has been party to CRC since 1990.
Sri Lanka’s Penal Code also considers causing “grievous hurt” a criminal offence.
It is no stretch of the imagination to perceive the mutilation of the genitals of a child as anything other than grievous hurt, at the very least.
I call upon the State to ensure the circular by the Ministry of Health is upheld and furthermore, to enact legislation specifically banning the practice of FGM in Sri Lanka, in keeping with demands made by Muslim women, child rights activists and women’s rights activists.
-The author is a Muslim woman who has requested anonymity.