Male dominated societies consider female sexuality as a destabilising force, capable of disrupting social order. Over centuries, patriarchy has been reining in women and their sexual needs through various practices such as slut-shaming, financial dependence and glorification of virginity. One of the more inhuman methods to accomplish it through Female Genital Mutilation or FGM. In some societies, women’s genitals are altered with crude instruments to preserve their virginity and to reduce their libido. Supporters of the practice justify it by saying FGM offers health benefits like male circumcision does, but it’s the farthest thing from the truth. In fact, there are scores of health problems – some that last a lifetime – associated with FGM. So every year on February 6th, the World Health Organization observes International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation to eliminate circumcision of girls that has no scientific or religious backing. Here’s a complete breakdown of what FGM entails and how it can affect lives in the long run.
What is Female Genital Mutilation?
Female genital mutilation refers to cutting and altering parts of women's genitalia under the pretext of religion and health benefits. But it's clearly done to control female libido in societies that place a lot of importance on female chastity.
FGM has been practised in 29 countries, including India among the Dawoodi Bohra community in a tradition called Khatna. The social pressure among the close-knit community drives the tradition within the Bohris. But voices of dissent against the inhuman practice is rising steadily.
Khafz, another religious practice among the Bohris, which entails a nick on the prepuce of the female genitalia is often confused with khatna. A sizeable number of Bohri women defend the practice saying the process is considerably non-invasive and doesn't involve any of the health risks associated with FGM, a fact that is widely contested.
Types of Female Genital Mutilation
There are four major types of FGM seen in practice: removing the clitoris, removing the clitoris as well as the labia minora, narrowing the vaginal opening by stitching up the labia majora and altering the genitalia with other harmful procedures.
Why is Female Genital Mutilation Performed?
Health reasons are often cited in support of FGM by practitioners. Unlike male circumcision, which offers modest protection against STDs and infections, female circumcision has no health benefits whatsoever. Even the religious texts have no verse supporting the cruel practice despite what the Syednas (Bohri spiritual leaders) say.
The Effects of Female Genital Mutilation
None of the communities that practise the tradition will admit that the primary purpose is to rein in the sexual tendencies of a woman, so that she doesn’t bring dishonour to her family. When the vaginal opening is narrowed, the pain of penetration will discourage the woman from intercourse. But that’s not the worst. From HIV to Death, 13 Dangerous Consequences of FGM on Women’s Health.
The procedure is carried out by witchdoctors, shamans or clerics who have little or no knowledge of medicine and human anatomy. The tools used for cutting and cauterising are often not disinfected. Crude equipment like razor blades is also used for cutting and mutilating the female genitalia and maiming the woman for life. Young girls endure unspeakable pain, undergoing the procedure without the luxury of painkillers or anaesthesia.
Short-term risks include excessive bleeding, infection of wounds, severe pain, fever, shock and even death. Somali Girl Dies After Female Genital Mutilation, A 'Gross' Violation of Women's Human Rights. If the woman survives the procedure, long-term consequences include urinary problems, vaginal problems, sexual problems, complications during childbirth and psychological issues.
FGM violates the human rights of women who are subjected to the horrible practice at the cost of their health. But despite this, FGM has not been classified as a human rights violation under international law and is subjected to an ongoing debate.
Even in India, where scores of Bohri girls are mutilated every year for upholding the pride of the community, don’t get any respite since India doesn’t have a separate law prohibiting it. A Delhi-based lawyer has filed a Public Interest Litigation seeking a ban against the practice.
The Supreme Court had also stated that the practice is a violation of women's bodily integrity. "Why and how should the bodily integrity of an individual be part of the religion and its essential practice? Why should anybody else have any control over the genitals of an individual?” said the apex court. Supreme Court Questions Practice of Female Genital Mutilation, Says Why Lady be Obliged to Please Her Husband.
FGM is an antiquated practice that has stayed back well past its welcome and has continued even in the age of female empowerment. State intervention is required to banish the practice before more innocent lives get scarred, both physically and mentally.