Ending FGM’s Terminology Barrier on International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM

Calling it what it is!


February 6, 2019 – The United Nations (UN) declared International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). On this occasion, WeSpeakOut - a survivor led organization - unequivocally pledges to continue in its efforts to eradicate FGM in India, and is proud to be supported by several human rights organizations, globally and in India.


FGM, is defined by the World Health Organisation as “the total or partial removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”, is widely prevalent in the Bohra Community and some other minorities, in India.


There are many terms and acronyms to describe female genital mutilation (FGM); female genital cutting (FGC), female circumcision (FC), Khatna and Khafz. In the Bohra Community specifically, it involves the cutting of a seven year old girl’s clitoral hood.


"Ending FGM’s terminology barrier is WeSpeakOut’s specific goal this year. Khafz is FGM", says Masooma Ranalvi, convener of WeSpeakOut while speaking to the Mumbai Mirror.


According to Masooma, “There is an attempt being made to confuse and obfuscate the gravity of the practice of FGM by using differing terminologies, claiming that FGM is barbaric while Khafz is more civilized. This use of different terms is only meant to belittle the harm caused by Khafz, by glorifying it.”


In this year when the country faces general elections, WeSpeakOut calls upon all Indian political leaders to hear its appeals, and take steps to end FGM’s terminology barrier, and to take a categorical stand to end the practice.

The practice of FGM is condemned by international human rights treaties to which India is a party. India has also pledged to eliminate FGM as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (target 5.3).


On July 30, 2018 WeSpeakOut and Equality Now collaborated for their first event titled “Eliminating Harmful Practices, Meeting SDG Commitments - Roundtable on FGM/C/Khafz in India”  where representatives from the global anti-FGM movement and UN agencies discussed the concerted, comprehensive and collaborative approach among government, civil society, survivors, communities, and international actors, required to eliminate this harmful practice by 2030, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.


In September 2018, the SC referred a PIL- seeking a ban on FGM - to a 5 judge constitutional bench. WeSpeakOut is also an intervener in this petition. Before this referral, a three judge bench of then CJI Dipak Mishra, Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice AM Khanwilkar observed that FGM/Khafz prima facie appears to be a violation of the right to privacy guaranteed by the Constitution, and the bodily integrity of the child. The Court also noted that there seems to be no scientific or medical basis for the practice of FGM/Khafz, which is likely to cause a significant amount of trauma, pain and bleeding.


While the practice of FGM does fall under certain sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act 2013, India does not have any specific law prohibiting the practice of FGM/Khafz.


There are important cases going on in Detroit, USA and in New South Wales, Australia, involving the Bohras for performing FGM on minor girls which have brought the prevalence of this practice out in the open in these countries and which have implications for the global anti-FGM movement as well.


Last year, WeSpeakOut published the first groundbreaking study on the prevalence, nature and consequence of this practice in the community. According to the study, 75% of all daughters of the sample set were subjected to FGM/C, which means it continues to be practiced on little girls. 97% of women who remembered their FGM/C experience from childhood recalled it as painful.While most women said they suffered immediate pain from the procedure only 2 women said they did not have any immediate or long-term impact from FGM/C.


While sharing extremely personal information, approximately 33% of women subjected to FGM/C in the study believe it has negatively impacted their sexual life. Many respondents in the study reported feeling fear, anxiety, shame, anger, depression, low-self-esteem, and/or betrayal of trust as some of the fallouts that they associated with their FGM/C.


It has been proven that deep seated patriarchal practices like FGM can be eliminated only if there is a strong political and public will to do so.


Masooma Ranalvi

Founder, WeSpeakOut


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