"The curtains were drawn. She said lie down. Like an obedient child, I lay. My grandmother was holding my hands. An oldish woman pulled down my pants… I started crying. Grandma said don’t worry, it will be over in a jiffy. I shrieked in pain… I experienced a sharp, shooting pain and she put some black powder there… I came home and cried and cried and cried...”- Masooma, 49 from Maharashtra, India.
"Then a sharp blade cuts my genitalia, removing all my labia and clitoris.....i was only seven that time and not properly understand what is going on with me...midwife stitch up my vagina, leaving me with a small hole....it's all going on in a dark curtained room."- Layla, 39 from Syria.
“I was only 10 or 11 years old, when my father decided to circumcise me....i cried and cried when a sharp blade cut my clitoral... no one was there to hear my blood-curdling scream... in fact my family was celebrating it as a festival.. after all, I had to become the fifth wife to a 70-year-old man"- Nigerian woman Kafla, 35.
"They held me down and she cut this part of my body. I didn't know what I had done wrong to these old people - whom I loved - for them to be on top of me and opening my legs to hurt me. It was psychologically like a nervous breakdown for me."- Sabia, 25, Somalia.
"I was only 9...my mother brought a midwife and some neighbours home. She prepared everything and left me alone with them in the room... they took off my shorts, and each of them held one of my legs. The midwife had a small blade which she used to cut this part of me.. I bled out...and that was it"..... Bishara, Kenya.
This pain is not only of two or four women, there are millions of such women all over the world, who endured the pain of Female genital mutilation (FGM) as a child for the sake of culture or rituals and all this happens behind the closed doors. Most women don't share their stories because they are afraid of what will happen to them, what will happen to their parents.
The shame runs so deep that girls are taught to never look at or touch their genitals, and most of them have never been to a gynecologist.
Female genital mutilation is a chronic global problem, it is not just confined to tribal societies or remote villages; Girls and women are being mutilated on every continent, in over 3o countries from small communities in Somalia to large cities in the United States of America.
Although, there are no concrete numbers of such practice over the globe; according to the World Health Organization, more than 200 million girls and women worldwide are living with the consequences of FGM. Additionally, 68 million girls are at risk by 2030.
FGM or Khatna (female circumcision) has so far remained a well-kept secret, a taboo or a topic that can never be disscused openly. FGM is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and age 15.
Among the communities that practice it, it is seen as a coming-of-age ritual or custom that is meant to maintain the “religious purity” of the female body, by restraining and controlling sexual desires.
Despite having no health benefits, FGM is very common in some cultures. Young girls are still being taken to midwives and to doctors to do such traditions. It's one of the most severe types of medical procedures, and so unhygienic.
'Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.'- as per WHO.
Global prevalence of FGM,
FGM mainly concentrated in 30 countries in Africa and the Middle East, it is also practiced in some countries in Asia (including India, Pakistan, Indonesia) and Latin America. And among immigrant populations living in Western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand, according to UNICEF.
While the exact number is not known, it is believed that a whopping 150 million women and girls of diaspora communities around the world concentrated (mostly in 29 African countries) have been subjected to FGM.
Another report released by the United Nations highlights that worldwide restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic have put over 2 million girls all over the globe at a higher risk of undergoing forced female genital mutilation.
Although FGM it is illegal in many countries, it is still routinely carried out in parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East and also among the diaspora of those countries where FGM is common.
There's no way to know how many women are victims of this practice because they make themselves invisible.
FGM survivors may face lifelong health complications,
It can cause long-lasting mental and physical health problems including chronic infections, urinary problems, menstrual problems, infertility, genital tissue swelling, sexual and pregnancy and childbirth complications that sometimes result in death.
The World Health Organization warns it can lead to urinary, vaginal and menstrual problems, as well as complications during childbirth and death.
FGM survivors may have intimacy pain or menopausal issues when they are older. Or on the labour ward, some women who have had FGM need assistance to give birth.
Other FGM survivors, like any woman suffering chronic pain, have more anxiety and depression and are more likely to isolate themselves from society. And some suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) related to the procedure which can be triggered by doctors or anybody who touches them.
It is not only retrogressive but also a danger to the health of young females. It is also reflective of deeply entrenched gender inequalities.
Why is FGM still in practice,
Despite proven side-effects and the purely superstitious basis of the practice, female genital mutilation continues to be practiced, reasons can be many. For example..
In many societies, FGM is practiced because they consider female genitalia as ugly and dirty, so it needs to be cut and women who have not undergone FGM are regarded as unhealthy, unclean or unworthy.
Performers believe that the clitoral head is ‘unwanted skin’, that it is a ‘source of sin’ that will make them ‘casteaway' the girls from their marriages.
One of the main reasons for the procedure is to tame a woman's sexual desire. If they are "cut", it is thought it will protect their virginity and once they are married, they will remain faithful to their husband.
Nigerian Proponents believe that new babies could die if they make contact with an uncut clitoris during delivery.
Many believe that the removal of these parts was thought to enhance the femininity, docility and obedience of a girl, thus making her suitable for her future gender role.
FGM is considered by some to be a prerequisite for marriage or inheritance, which makes it harder for families to abandon.
In fact, they celebrate it as a festival to mark this event in a girl’s life. According to some religious books, FGM is a rite of passage into womanhood and also an essential part of the cultural identity of certain communities.
Basically, FGM is a socially accepted gender-based violation of human rights, a harmful practice with no medical benefits.
In all the above situations, if any community challenges this issue, it is branded as racist.
Another reason is that the correct language is still not being used when addressing the topic of FGM. In media coverage or public discussion, it is often portrayed as a cultural, traditional or religious practice.
However, labeling it as such hinders questioning or expressing outrage over it. This approach minimizes the seriousness of the survivor's experience. What girls have endured at a very young age. Such women are forced to live a ‘culture of silence’.
FGM in India,
In India this practice is widely known as "Khatna", "Khafad" or removal of the clitoris. In India, Type I and Type IV procedures of FGM are prevalent among the Bohra sect of Shia Muslims, mainly in the states of Maharashtra, Kerala, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, according to a report published by The Guardian in 2018.
Mullanis, or traditional cutters, perform the ritual of genital cutting, which is a harrowing experience for women.
Although there are specific laws on female genital mutilation around the world, India fails to enforce any existing laws on its procedure, which has allowed FGM to maintain confidentiality.
Now India has become a "hub" for FGM practices. Over 75% of girls (some as young as seven years old) are subjected to the procedure, while 33% of women are physically and psychologically affected by FGM, with their sex lives also affected.
There are currently no official estimates available to ascertain the incidence of FGM in India. In 2017, in response to a petition in the apex court, the Ministry of Women and Child Development had said that "at present there is no official data or study that supports the existence of FGM in India.
A step towards FGM control,
It is said to be one of the most inhuman acts of gender-based violence (GBV) perpetrated against women, and a violation of their human rights.
International committees such as the UN, WHO, and USAID have come together to wage a war against FGM, with an aim to eradicate it by 2030.
Other global organisations such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the Beijing Declaration of 1995, provide a framework for the promotion and protection of the rights of women and girls.
By January 2020, more than 520 organizations and individuals around the world have endorsed Global Call to Action against FGM practice. World leaders have pledged to eradicate FGM by 2030, but campaigners say the ancient ritual remains deeply entrenched in many places, so now is the time to accelerate action.
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