No, Female Circumcision is Not Different from FGM

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The issue of female circumcision and FGM affects millions worldwide each year. Despite being banned in the West for decades, FGM is still prevalent.

On the 6th of February every year the World marks Zero Tolerance for FGM Day in the hope that wider recognition of its malevolent effects will one day lead to the end of this unnecessary and damaging ritual. Female Genital Mutilation makes toddlers, minors and women go through mutilation to preserve their so-called ‘honour’ vis-a-vis men and traditional community values that some hold dear. However, it is shocking that despite FGM being banned in Western countries it is still practised by many people who defend it under the rubric of cultural and religious rites.

In 2006, Egypt’s Grand Mufti issued a fatwa declaring FGM forbidden by Islam after an 11-year-old girl died from an FGM procedure at a private clinic. Earlier, the Grand Sheikh of Cairo’s Al-Azhar mosque, Mohamed Sayed Tanrawi, along with the support of some other clerics, had declared the practice un-Islamic.[1] Nevertheless, some Muslim scholars and clerics conveniently distort the implications of having FGM performed on Muslim girls across the West.

They unabashedly re-describe the practice under the label ‘female circumcision’ to give the impression that the practice is comparable to male circumcision, as though it had no long-term damaging medical consequences and nothing to do with the permanent harm suffered by those who undergo the practice. It is devastating that millions across the world follow such extremist clerics to the detriment of girls and women’s’ physical and emotional health. If not subjected to FGM in Western countries, many girls are taken abroad by their parents to make them go through the ordeal.

A World Health Organization report in 2017 revealed that more than 200 million women and girls had become victims of FGM and around 3 million were at risk of being mutilated.[2] United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said “With the dignity, health and well-being of millions of girls at stake, there is no time to waste. Together, we can and must end this harmful practice.”  FGM is practiced worldwide under the pretext of cultural norms and religious obligations for women, despite there being no religious mandate for it in any sacred scripture.

“A World Health Organization report in 2017 revealed that more than 200 million women and girls had become victims of FGM and around 3 million were at risk of being mutilated”

FGM is not prescribed in the Koran, and Hadiths that people use to justify FGM for Muslim girls and women are disputed among Muslim scholars in terms of their authenticity.  The given narratives are not considered as constituting a legal basis for implementing FGM in Sharia-compliant societies. Besides, the argument that abnegates the practice of FGM in Islam is also based on the life of Prophet, who had never recommended FGM for his wives and daughters.

The surgical procedure involves partial or complete removal of the clitoris, inner and/or outer skin around the vagina, and (in some types) the sewing together of the two sides of the vulva leaving only a small hole to pass urine and menstrual blood. The practice mostly involves quacks and causes extreme suffering and infections both immediately after the procedure and long-term. Survivors live with lifelong scars, pain and a mutilated body with unfathomable psychological and physical pain.

Sadly, there is very little being done to prevent this sham practice in the West. Despite laws against FGM being intact, an infinitesimally small number of arrests have been made to enforce it. Illegal practitioners are working across the developed world to mutilate thousands of females on behalf of their parents and family members. In the United Kingdom alone a girl is put under the knife of a charlatan every hour.[3] An NHS report issued in2017 revealed that 9,179 women and minors have undergone FGM.[4]

Adult women who underwent FGM or face the risk in the US alone has tripled in two decades. In 1990, there were around 18,000 women who fell into this category, but the number increased to above 50,000 by 2012. Similarly, the underage girls who faced this savagery increased from less than 10,000 to around 18,000.[5]. The German Family Affairs Ministry revealed in 2017 that 48,000 females had been victims of FGM, which exposed an alarming increase of 30 percent since 2014.[6] The European figures are shocking, but most of the cases come to light after girls either identified or were treated.

This is a worrying situation given that it has been 30 years since the UK banned FGM, where misogynist clerics are welcomed and respected while endorsing FGM as a religious obligation for women. In 2017, a spiritual leader of the Bohra Muslim community, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin[7], an advocate of Female genital mutilation, was inaugurated as the 4th Dawoodi Bohra Masjid in the United Kingdom.[8] He overtly refuses to acknowledge the harm done to the women through his preaching of the ritual while encouraging his followers to continue the practice even if the Western governments deny their right to do it.[9]Dr Ali Selim of Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland misled his followers by giving them a vague reference from a Koranic verse, which did not even indirectly mention the term female genital mutilation.

FGM, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin

Bohra Muslim leader, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin (pictured left) has advocated FGM practices, even when it violates the laws of Western nations.  Image Credit: kuna.net.kw

Despite Ireland banning FGM, up to and including any incidents of mutilation of girl’s bodies by taking them abroad, there have been 5,790 reported cases of girls and women who went through FGM while around 2,639 are still at risk.[10] Last year in the United States (US), three physicians were arrested on charges of performing FGM on up to 100 girls in a doctor’s clinic in Michigan, where FGM has been illegal since 1996.[11] Dr Jumana Nargarwala, 44, carried out the practice while Dr Fakhruddin Attar, 53, was accused of letting Nargarwala use his clinic. His wife Farida Attar apparently held the hands of the victim to ‘comfort’ her during the mutilating procedure.[12]

Only the three accused were arrested for their crime, yet nobody can say for sure that the practice was only restricted to this small group of offenders. The number of girls and women who are at the risk of FGM or have undergone it has been increasing massively.[13]Nevertheless, the arrests are still a ray of hope that could deter the inhumane practice in the developed world. Still, we have yet to see whether the conviction of these doctors and their sentences will be a lesson to those who dare to inflict such lifelong injury on their girls.

Their defence lawyer arguments for a religious right to perform FGM as the culprits belonged to the Indian Dawoodi Bohra community that endorses FGM as an Islamic rite.[14] Using similar reasoning, there would be nothing to stop any abusive (and otherwise illegal) form of injury being inflicted on children, so long as the harm done can be described as a ‘religious rite’. No wonder imams like Shaker Elsayed of Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia, endorsed FGM as a tool to prevent “hypersexuality” in the girls while the government chooses to turn a blind eye.[15]  As calls for his dismissal grew stronger none other than Oxford professor Tariq Ramadan came to his rescue by suggesting that practice might be Islamic.[16] However, Ramadan himself is under arrest in France these days on charges of raping his pupils and subordinates.[17]

It is ironic that clerics with such a mindset are openly proselytising for this crime across the Western world despite knowing that motivating someone or providing religious justification for the illegal practice could land them behind bars. However, the confidence with which they continue to preach such savagery might be a result of inadequate law enforcement, as police almost never succeed to dent the practice, despite knowing the gravity and scale of the phenomenon.

Just legislating against FGM won’t suffice when authorities allow the poisonous brainwashing by clerics and so-called ‘scholars’ under their noses. While liberal societies must protect freedom of expression, the voices protesting this practice must vocalise their dissent and press for stricter enforcement of existing laws. Laws against the practice need to be strictly implemented against practitioners as well as parents to break the cycle of this vicious crime against humanity. French authorities have struck a decisive blow against the practice by penalising the parents.[18]

Those who commit such unspeakable horror to their children need to be fully informed of the law so that any sentence incurred will be just. Religious freedom is a human right, but it includes the freedom from religion. When religious freedom conflicts with equally (or more) fundamental rights, such as the right to bodily sovereignty, it should not be permitted to cancel out the other rights to which we are all equally entitled.

 

Sources:

[1] https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSL24694871

[2] http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs241/en/

[3] http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/female-genital-mutilation-fgm-case-per-hour-uk-nhs-circumcision-a7564571.html

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jul/05/nhs-attended-to-9000-fgm-cases-in-england-last- -report-reveals

[5] https://edition.cnn.com/2017/05/11/health/female-genital-mutilation-fgm-explainer-trnd/index.html

[6] https://www.thelocal.de/20170207/50000-women-in-germany-have-been-genitally-mutilated-report

[7] http://www.bbc.com/news/av/uk-england-birmingham-40831992/protests-at-birmingham-mosque-over-controversial-cleric

[8] http://www.thedawoodibohras.com/na_ui.aspx?type=News&article_id=48

[9] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/Bohra-cleric-urges-female-genital-mutilation/articleshow/52031699.cms

[10] http://www.thejournal.ie/female-genital-mutilation-officially-banned-in-ireland-399707-Mar2012/

https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/health-family/female-genital-mutilation-it-s-happening-here-girls-are-being-taken-out-of-ireland-1.3374033

[11] http://www.newsweek.com/genital-mutilation-girls-michigan-doctor-623295

[12] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/female-genital-mutilation-religious-right-us-first-case-fgm-detriot-michigan-a7748736.html

[13] https://edition.cnn.com/2017/05/11/health/female-genital-mutilation-fgm-explainer-trnd/index.html

[14] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/female-genital-mutilation-religious-right-us-first-case-fgm-detriot-michigan-a7748736.html

[15] https://www.rt.com/usa/391177-imam-fgm-elsayed-virginia/

[16] https://www.memri.org/tv/tariq-ramadan-fgm-part-of-prophetic-tradition

[17] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/02/world/europe/tariq-ramadan-rape-accusations-.html

[18] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/feb/10/france-tough-stance-female-genital-mutilation-fgm

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2 Comments

  1. Why is removing a girl’s prepuce “genital mutilation”, but removing a boy’s prepuce “circumcision”? (many forms of FGC don’t even touch the clitoris, and infibulation is fortunately quite rare)

    It’s illegal to cut off a girl’s prepuce, or to make any incision on a girl’s genitals, even if no tissue is removed. Even a pinprick is banned. Why don’t boys get the same protection? Everyone should be able to decide for themselves whether or not they want parts of their genitals cut off. It’s *their* body.

    The AAP’s Bioethics committee changed its policy on female cutting in 2010 saying “It might be more effective if federal and state laws enabled pediatricians to reach out to families by offering a ritual [clitoral] nick as a possible compromise to avoid greater harm.”
    They were forced to retract this about six weeks later.
    Dr Diekema, the chair of the committee said “We’re talking about something far less extensive than the removal of foreskin in a male”.

    The German Pediatric Association said this:
    “Therefore it is not understandable that circumcision of boys should be allowed but that of girls prohibited worldwide. Male circumcision is basically comparable with FGM types Ia and Ib that the Schafi Islamic school of law supports”

  2. “The surgical procedure involves partial or complete removal of the clitoris, inner and/or outer skin around the vagina, and (in some types) the sewing together of the two sides of the vulva leaving only a small hole to pass urine and menstrual blood. The practice mostly involves quacks and causes extreme suffering and infections both immediately after the procedure and long-term. Survivors live with lifelong scars, pain and a mutilated body with unfathomable psychological and physical pain.”

    There is no form of FGM that removes the entire clitoris. The WHO says this, but they’re lying. The clitoris is overwhelmingly an internal structure. You will not find a single diagram or description of an FGM procedure that removes the entire clitoris. What they remove is the glans clitoris, the external portion. This is no doubt highly damaging, but this is not on par with removing the head of the penis either, because that would be worse. There’d be a massive blood loss in doing so and it would even effect the ability to urinate.

    There is no evidence those outcomes you describe are the norm outside of largely the “some types” you refer to. Here is a far more unbiased and accurate assessment of FGM:

    “From the Hastings Center report “Seven Things to Know about Female Genital Surgeries in Africa”:

    “Western media coverage of female genital modifications in Africa has been hyperbolic and onesided, presenting them uniformly as mutilation and ignoring the cultural complexities that underlie these practices. Even if we ultimately decide that female genital modifications should be abandoned, the debate around them should be grounded in a better account of the facts.”

    1. Research by gynecologists and others has demonstrated that a high percentage of women who have had genital surgery have rich sexual lives, including desire, arousal, orgasm, and satisfaction, and their frequency of sexual activity is not reduced.

    2. The widely publicized and sensationalized reproductive health and medical complications associated with female genital surgeries in Africa are infrequent events and represent the exception rather than the rule.

    3. Female genital surgeries in Africa are viewed by many insiders as aesthetic enhancements of the body and are not judged to be “mutilations.”

    4. Customary genital surgeries are not restricted to females. In almost all societies where there are customary female genital surgeries, there are also customary male genital surgeries, at similar ages and for parallel reasons. In other words, there are few societies in the world, if any, in which female but not male genital surgeries are customary.

    5. The empirical association between patriarchy and genital surgeries is not well established.

    6. Female genital surgery in Africa is typically controlled and managed by women.

    7. The findings of the WHO Study Group on Female Genital Mutilation and Obstetric Outcome is the subject of criticism that has not been adequately publicized. The reported evidence does not support sensational media claims about female genital surgery as a cause of perinatal and maternal mortality during birth.”

    Your article is nothing more than a repeat of decades of propaganda based on an inextricable fixation on the absolute most extreme forms of FGM (infibulation) found exclusively in East Africa, anatomical illiteracy (“removal of the entire clitoris”), and of course, an intentional attempt to downplay the harm of male circumcision. If you knew the slightest bit about the anatomy of the foreskin, you would see how fallacious this is. Or if you were to see footage of an infant circumcision. Or what’s commonly done to boys in the muslim world (look up “Turkish boys circumcised without anesthesia.”) Or the outcomes of tribal circumcisions in South Africa. Just look up ulwaluko.co.za. There’s plenty more of these things if you’d bother to look.

    You think people who call FGM “female circumcision” are trying to “unabashedly re-describe” the practice, yet don’t give any consideration to whether grouping a vast array of procedures with widely that include even pinpricks that don’t draw blood are all called “mutilation” and treated as comparable to Type 3 FGM/infibulation or complete clitoridectomy (which is not practiced anywhere on Earth.)

    And when you say “as though it had no long-term damaging medical consequences and nothing to do with the permanent harm suffered by those who undergo the practice”, are you saying male circumcision causes none of these things? Apparently you are. You should just come out and say “the foreskin is completely useless, so useless it’s okay to remove it on a boy with no immediate medical need and for really any reason at all.” Thinking and rhetoric like yours is what serves to downplay the harm of male circumcision and exaggerate the harm of vaginal procedures that are not only less invasive than infibulation, but even male circumcision.

    You talk about extremist clerics in Islam, but won’t raise a word about the religious justifications of male circumcision/MGM- that gets a pass because MGM is near-universal in Islam and enshrined in Judaism, so there’s far greater backing for the legitimacy of it as a religious practice.

    If you want to talk about extremism, perhaps focus on the US, which remains the only developed country where MGM is still routinely practiced on infants for “medical reasons”, and who’s medical community has been roundly criticized by others across for this. They play a central role in the perpetuation of male circumcision to prevent AIDS in Africa, which many Africans have come to protest- look up the VMMC Project.

    Perhaps the most shameful part of your article is the fact you’re a resident of Germany. Germany’s medical community is vocally against circumcision, and circumcision was nearly banned in 2012, but failed due to religious outcry. And as the previous poster mentioned, German Pediatrics has explicitly called out the double standard that exists on FGM vs. male circumcision and equated male circumcision with various forms of Type I FGM.

    Yet you’re seemingly unaware of German medicine’s negative view on circumcision, and instead choose to uphold the grotesquely sexist international double standard that sees unconsenting, non-therapeutic genital alterations of a male’s genitals as a complete non-issue/a good thing because Jews and Muslims do it and it prevents AIDS.

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