I am a victim of Female Genital Cutting –some might want to call it circumcision, I call it Mutilation. Not in the way that the proponents want to depict it as what happens in Africa with horrific scars, but in the way it happened to me in Sri Lanka where there are still scars, tiny, almost unnoticeable, but in all the ways that matter, it has damaged me no less than those horrific scars one talks about in Africa.
To those who want to medicalize the procedure, let me say that I was cut by a qualified doctor, in a sterile environment when I was seven years old. I remember that day clearly and it is I who has had to live with the consequence of what was done to me in the name of religion. Not my religious leaders, not my elders and not that doctor – ME – the women, that child without a voice, grew up to be.
Let me now take the arguments I’ve heard in support of the procedure and give you my perspective as someone who has first hand experience of the negative impacts of FGC. I will use the term female genital cutting (FGC) since irrespective of what one wants to call it, that is what is done to a lesser or greater degree, depending on who hold the pin, blade or knife.
- I still haven’t come across any argument to support as to why the procedure needs to be performed on infants or seven-year-old girls
- I personally find the very idea of parents allowing strangers access to their daughter’s private parts for non-medical reasons an extremely discomforting thought
- I’m a Muslim, but I don’t believe that God who created me required any MAN or WOMAN to tamper with my body
A. Sex lives as Adults.
1. To the women who say that you have better sex lives due to FGC performed on you as a child, I ask you – what is your point of reference? Have you had sex with the same partner before and after your FGC to arrive at this conclusion?
Have you ever considered the possibility that you have been very lucky, and that whoever performed the FGC on you spared you any real damage?
It is also very presumptuous for you to assume that NONE of the billions of uncircumcised women around the world enjoy great sex same as you.
2. To the women who don’t have a horrific memory related to their own FGC and who don’t understand what all the fuss is about. Let me tell you that neither do I. I don’t have any horrific memories of that day when I was seven years old. My Mom who accompanied me held me gently, the doctor looked very professional and it was over before I knew what was being done. I felt a pinch, no bleeding that I can remember – just some cotton wool that smelled of antiseptic placed there after I was cut. And I walked out, in discomfort, confused but definitely not traumatized.
It was as an adult that I realized the impact of what was done to me. I feel pain during intercourse. Most of you who have been through FGC may not. But does that mean you are not damaged? Have you ever considered the fact that intercourse is supposed to be more than just “pleasant”? or something you put up with when your husband feels so inclined?
In my case, I have been examined by a doctor who has seen the tiny scars and helped me understand the impact of those scars on my ability to enjoy sex.
Initially I wondered whether I was a mere unfortunate mistake by this doctor – I have since then come across stories of others who were cut by the same and other doctors who share similar tales. So no, I was not an unfortunate accident – the doctor and others like him/her knew exactly what they were doing and did it nonetheless.
B. The need to perform the procedure on a child.
All the literature shared by the supporters of this practice alludes to adult women enjoying their sex lives. I still haven’t come across any argument to support as to why the procedure needs to be performed on infants or seven-year-old girls who have a long way to go before they are sexually active.
So, what is effectively being promoted is in fact sexualizing children. News flash - These organs don’t stay dormant and get activated only when one gets married.
I personally find the very idea of parents allowing strangers access to their daughter’s private parts for non-medical reasons and letting them alter her genitals, an extremely discomforting thought.
I’m more inclined to believe that in their heart of hearts they know that they are in fact desexualizing her. Wanting to keep her pure and innocent until she could be given away. No thought giving to the fact that she then has to live with a damaged body and fulfil marital obligations that she may not enjoy as much in their effort to keep her pure and innocent until she was given away.
C. The Religious Argument
There are two aspects to this debate–
1. Who decides on one’s religious belief? – the individual or the individual’s parent?
Yes, the parents would bring up the child within the religious norms they follow and yes in most cases the child would continue with that belief till the end, but this is not a certainty.
Hence how do you justify altering a child’s body, without any medical need, to be in alignment with the parents religious belief when that child is yet to determine what path she would take or which God she will follow once she has learned enough to make that decision?
As for me, I’m a Muslim, but I don’t believe that the God who created me required any MAN or WOMAN to tamper with my body, with a presumption that they can make it better. I believe the Quran, when it says that all of God’s creations are perfect. I won’t let any MAN or WOMAN tell me otherwise.
But my body has been altered irrevocably – its no longer the way God created it to be. My body is now in conflict with MY religious beliefs – it has ended up representing the beliefs of others and not mine.
2. This is not a belief shared by all Muslims across the world –
Much debate exists within the Muslim world as to whether FGC is even required under Islam. There is no evidence of it being required by the Prophet of his household or being carried out on his daughter/s.
The very fact that it is much debated within the Muslim world with many concluding it as not obligatory and in some cases even dissuading the practice, should lend itself to introspection among those who support it in Sri Lanka - as to whether this is a fight that really needs to be fought or whether one should focus on the greater good – protection of the rights of the girl child – a true gift from God.
D. Responsibility of the State
The questions the State need to keep at the forefront when deciding on the way forward on the issue are:
1. Isn’t it the responsibility of the State to protect the girl child from any move to sexualize or desexualize her, specially by religious leaders and male proponents who should never be allowed to speak on this matter which is a women’s issue – even if religious.?
2. Isn’t it the responsibility of the State to dissuade elders from altering the body of a child for non-medical reasons?
3. Isn’t it the responsibility of the State to prevent anyone from stamping their religious conviction on a child’s body, when she is yet to decide on her own religious convictions? In other words protecting the right of the INDIVIDUAL to their religious freedom foremost.
The response cannot be anything other than affirmative on all three questions posed above. Yes, it is the responsibility of the State, at least until she is an adult and can take all these decisions for herself depending on HER body, HER preference and HER religious convictions.
The writer remains anonymous