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Resisting FGM in Malaysia: One fathers story

The Milla Project

When my daughter was born, I remember there being a huge rush of nurses, doctors, students and various other medical attendants swirling around the doors of the delivery room. On a whiteboard next to the entrance was a hastily drawn-up list of all the various expecting mothers who were delivering at the time. Drawn in smaller fonts right next to the name of the mothers were the words indicating whether the mother was Muslim or not, the expected sex of the baby, and if the baby was a girl born to a Muslim mother, whether she would be circumcised or not. Before long a medical attendant came rushing up to me and asked me whether I wanted my daughter to be circumcised. Before I share with you my decision, let us consider the facts, myths and issues surrounding female circumcision.

Female circumcision is probably one of the least well-known facts about the Malay community. Some non-Malay men who have married Malay women are not even aware of this fact. But it’s there, it happens, and it is even conducted by medical professionals. There has been a general effort by WHO and various other medical and women’s NGOs to eliminate the practice of Female Circumcision (or Female Genital Mutilation as some quarters call it) around the world. These efforts often meet with strong resistance from the local populace due to the strong connection the practice has with local cultures and traditions.

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New FGM study in line with Wadi’s findings

25. August 2013, by Arvid Vormann

A new study on FGM in Iraqi Kurdistan produced by several Kurdish medical scientists in cooperation with the KRG Ministry of Health appears largely consistent with Wadi’s findings from 2008. Investigating on its own initiative, the Kurdish government now seems to be truly willing to take concrete steps and play a positive role in the fight against the practice.
Among females from 6 months to 20 years of age the study detected an overall prevalence of 23%; however it has to be taken into account that (a) the study included Duhok province which is known for its low prevalence rate, and (b) the age group is restricted to young women and girls and even includes babies.
The study reported an FGM rate of 37% among girls in Erbil and 29% in Suleimaniah province. Wadi in 2008 found 57% in Erbil and 59% in Suleimaniyah among girls aged 14-19. These differences are not surprising considering the facts that
(a) the new study includes babies and young girls before the age FGM is traditionally carried out in the region,
(b) it excludes women above the age of 20 (with growing age there is a sharp rise in prevalence)
(c) in recent years there is growing awareness among people and Wadi observed a rapid downward trend in some areas,
(d) meanwhile FGM has been legally banned and become a punishable crime. It was observed in various African countries that under such conditions people are more likely to conceal the practice, especially when they are asked to report on their daughters for which they (at least in theory) could be hold accountable.
The authors did not outline why they restricted the age group as they did. Anyway, these kind of surveys can be an excellent tool to map the recent trend and should be repeated at least every two years to keep track on the latest developments.

Not just a pinch of skin

18.8.2013. A film student made a film about the practice of FGM in the Bohra community in India. First it was seen with suspicion, now she won a national award.

Interview of the director by Yollande D’Mello (dna)

It started out as a college project that Priya Goswami, an alumna of National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, worked on in her final year. In March, the 25-minute documentary, A Pinch of Skin, about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in India, won the National Film Award in the Special Mention category. dna caught up with her for a chat

Why did you choose this topic?
I stumbled upon an article that broached the topic and knew immediately that this would be the subject of my documentary. I had never heard about the practice of Female Genital Mutilation from friends belonging to the Dawoodi Bohra community or otherwise, and wondered why that was. I want to start a conversation. I’m a feminist at heart but I wanted to make an objective film.

How did you convince people to come on record?
I shot in Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Surat and Udaipur where people were either on board or not. We worked around their requests to use silhouettes, not shoot faces or simply record audio. I took whatever they gave me.

How does the film manage to capture emotions without any faces?
Everyone we spoke to had a vociferous opinion to be expressed. We let their body language do the talking. So gesticulating hands and tensed toes make up for facial expressions.

How did the practice of FGM begin?
It’s a myth. There is actually no mention of it in the Quran. Since the community was predominantly merchants, men travelled a lot. Removing the haraam ki boti, as it is called, was a way to control the sexual urges of women and keep them from infidelity. Read More.

U.N. pressures Indonesia to stop health workers performing FGM

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) 12.8.2013. Indonesia should stop allowing doctors, midwives and other health workers to carry out female genital mutilation (FGM) on children and babies as young as six months, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (OHCHR) has said.

The committee also urged the country to pass legislation banning any form of FGM and to put in place penalties that reflect the “gravity of this offence”, which campaigners say is a serious human rights violation. OHCHR made its comments on Friday in observations on the state of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The “medicalisation” of FGM – a term used for when the practice is performed by health practitioners – has emerged as a trend in several countries and campaigners say it is setting back global efforts to eradicate the ancient ritual. It is also seen as one of the biggest risk factors as it is often seen as legitimising FGM. Read more

 

Laws or education? – the debate how to eliminate FGM

07. 08. 2013

The recent Unicef report on female genital mutilation (FGM) has sparked a debate about the best way to eliminate the practice. As Thomas Reuters reports some campaigners stress the necessity of law enforcement while others are set on the empowerment of women. No one denies that both are important but the emphasis to be put on each is disputed.

Comparing Unicef’s figures by country must indeed lead to questions why FGM in some places declines while it does not in others. While Unicef found a general decline of FGM in the surveyed region, there are steep differences between countries. Burkina Faso is a success story with a high prevalence of 90 percent, but only 9 percent of girls and women supporting the continuation of FGM today. Senegal, on the other hand, seems to be somewhat of a set back. With also high prevalence of 79 precent it could be counted as a success that only 18 percent of women aged 45-49 want FGM to continue. Yet, the next generation seems to be much of the same opinion with 16 percent of girls aged 15-19 in favor of it. If awareness campaigns were successful it could be expected that support drops from generation to generation.

Both countries have outlawed FGM in the 1990s and have seen large campaigns against FGM in the last decades. Why then is there so little change in attitudes between generations in Senegal? Some campaigners, such as Equality Now, point to the fact that Burkina Faso has seen strong law enforcement while Senegal hasn’t. An SOS hotline has been installed that allows the public to call if they know FGM is being performed. The police arrive immediately on the spot to arrest the perpetrators.

Yet, Tostan, a large non-governmental organization in charge of the Anti-FGM-campaigns in Senegal, defends its approach to eliminate FGM through the empowerment of women – teaching literacy, health and human rights.

WADI and the Stop FGM Mideast campaign stress that empowerment of women and law enforcement including all legal issues must go hand and hand. Particularly, in countries with a strong tradition of religious laws regulating people’s lifes, the state must take a decisive stand against female genital mutilation. Otherwise, any awareness campaign risks to be challenged by a local Imam or other cleric who might not be in accordance with higher religious authorities but is listened to in the absence of state.

The Bristish Guardian will have a live discussion on a related topic on August 8th: Live Q&A: finding strategies to end harmful behaviours and beliefs