FGM/C study results summarized

New Groundbreaking National Research on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) in India marks International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM

by Lakshmi Anantnarayan, Shabana Diler and Natasha Menon

February 6, 2018

 

Some of the KEY findings of the report:

  • 75% of all daughters of the study sample 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.
  • Despite sex being a taboo topic, approximately 33% of women subjected to FGM/C in the study believe it has negatively impacted their sexual life. Low sex drive, inability to feel sexual pleasure, difficulty trusting sexual partners, and over sensitivity in the clitoral area were some of the problems identified by several women.
  • Close to 10% of the women who had undergone the procedure in the current study specifically mentioned urinary problems, recurring UTIs, burning and incontinence. In addition, one of the study participants reported bleeding of the clitoral hood area due to irritation.
  • 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.

 

New Delhi: WeSpeakOut, the largest survivor-led movement to end Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) amongst Bohras in collaboration with Nari Samata Manch, a trust for gender equality released a new report on FGM/C in India titled, “The Clitoral Hood A Contested Site: Khafd or Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) in India,” timed to coincide with the UN’s International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM. The report has revealed startling statistics and unnerving trends regarding the practice of FGM/C in India.

WeSpeakOut members were joined by Dr. Shashi Tharoor, Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha, in a press conference to release the report.

 

The full report is accessible online here.

 

“Women’s right to dignity supersedes right to freedom of religion. Law cannot and should not question the idea of divine but law can and must regulate human action that hurts others. Will the government show the same grit and enthusiasm for triple talaq to ban the practice of FGM/C in the Bohra Community?”  Dr. Shashi Tharoor on FGM/C 

According to the WHO, FGM comprises “all procedures that involve the altering or injuring of female genitalia for nonmedical purposes and is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.”

The report released at the Constitution Club in New Delhi, reveals several tragic stories, including that of an 8-yr-old girl who underwent FGM/C as recently as 2017, and was stitched up 12 hours after a botched procedure due to excessive bleeding. The report also warns of the risk of India becoming a hub for FGM/C of expat and foreign Bohra girls, owing to the global crackdown on FGM/C in the Bohra community through the legal cases in Australia and USA, and because India still does not have a law against FGM/C. The study also revealed an unsettling current trend – increasing medicalization of FGM/C in India (performance of FGM/C in medical facilities by doctors). Owing to increased public scrutiny of FGM/C, the practice is steadily going underground as more people involved in performing or promoting FGM/C from the community refrain from speaking about it publicly.

This new year-long qualitative study on FGM/C or Khafd as it is locally known, is the largest field research study of its kind undertaken in India. In depth one-on-one interviews were conducted with 94 individuals (83 women and 11 men). The study covered 12 sites in four Indian states: Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, which have a high concentration of Bohras. The 12 sites were: Ahmedabad, Baroda, Bhavnagar, Dahod, Godhra, Indore, Mumbai, Pune, Ratlam, Selana, Surat, and Udaipur. Kerala, where a few Sunni Muslim sects are known to practice FGM/C was added later. Additionally Bohra expats from Canada, UAE, and USA also participated.

 

BREAKING the government’s‘non-existence’ of FGM/C myth 

Rich with narratives from survivors, the report flies in the face of the Ministry of Women and Child Development’s alarming affidavit to the Supreme Court that stated, “there is no official data which supports the existence of FGM.” Masooma Ranalvi, Founder of WeSpeakOut welcomed the report stating:

“Anyone who doubts or denies the existence of FGM/C in India must read this report filled with heart wrenching stories of the many harms from FGM/C. By turning a blind eye and doing nothing about FGM/C, the Government of India is denying women and girls their rights enshrined in the Indian constitution. In keeping with its international human rights commitments under numerous treaty bodies, India must at once pass a law that bans the act of providing FGM/C.”  Masooma Ranalvi, Founder of WeSpeakOut

 

MORE than a NICK

Supporters of the harmful traditional practice in India claim that Khafds practiced by Bohras is not ‘FGM/C’ because “it is just a nick on the clitoral hood, which is just useless skin anyway.” Firstly, no matter what procedure is practiced as Khafd, (including a ‘nick’), it qualifies as FGM because it is a medically unnecessary alteration of female genitalia. Secondly, this claim that Khafd is “just a nick” is far from the truth. Lakshmi Anantnarayan writer of the report clarifies:

“Most women subjected to Khafd in India undergo Type 1 FGM/C or clitoridectomy (partial or total removal of the clitoral hood and/or clitoris) and very few younger women may be subjected to Type 4 FGM/C (pricking, piercing, cauterization). All three traditional circumcisers we spoke with confirmed that they used a scissor to remove a piece of skin or tissue, one of them even buried this piece of skin after each procedure. Further the clitoral hood is anything but ‘useless’. It is an erogenous tissue with a protective function akin to the eyelids.”  Lakshmi Anantnarayan, Researcher

Dr. Sujaat Vali, Ob-Gyn, who observed FGM/C in 20 female Bohra patients also confirmed that Type 1 FGM/C is the predominant practice in India. The clitoris of most of his subjects was smaller than the usual size.

“The clitoris is very small and there is a very small region between the skin and the clitoris. Only a specialist with a lot of experience can maybe separate the two and be able to cut only the skin/hood/prepuce. So, in most cases the clitoris does get affected.”  Dr. Sujaat Vali, Ob-Gyn

 

Not a religious REQUIREMENT

A majority of those who practice FGM/C in India believed that it is a religious requirement. Shabana Diler, one of the researchers of the study emphasized:

“We learnt that Khafd is mistakenly thought to be obligatory or compulsory by many who follow it, although it is only optional with no negative consequences when not performed. In fact Khafd explicitly violates several prohibitions of harm or Ithm in the Quran.”  Shabana Diler, Researcher

This research also revealed other misconceptions surrounding the harmful traditional practice that equate it to male circumcision thereby linking Khafd to hygiene, purity, and cleanliness. It is dangerous to equate Khafd to male circumcision, owing to fundamental differences in male and female genital anatomy. There are no known benefits from the practice of Khafd as is often claimed by proponents.

 

RISKY and HARMFUL

The bottom line is that FGM/C is risky and harmful. FGM/C has long been internationally recognized as a form of violence and discrimination against women and girls. It gravely affects women’s sexual pleasure, and their physical, & psychological well-being. It has been banned by a number of countries where the practice occurs, including Egypt, where Bohras trace part of their ancestry. FGM/C is not practiced in the majority of Islamic countries. Even the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (with 57 member countries) opposes FGM/C. India has banned several other harmful traditional practices that are discriminatory like Sati, Dowry, and child marriage. There is no reason Khafd must be treated any differently than these other harmful traditions.

We believe it is possible to uphold a diverse & inclusive society that celebrates minority identities while also building a safer world free from gender-based violence, discrimination, and harm. We believe that it is possible to reimagine a ritual purification ceremony that celebrates Bohra girls, their unique identity, health and well-being intact, devoid of FGM/C and the Government of India, community members, the Bohra religious authority and medical professionals, each have a role in making that reality happen.

The report was financially supported by Maharashtra Foundation and Amplify Change.

Read the full report here

 

For further information, please contact:

Masooma Ranalvi: +(91) 9811174784, formasooma@gmail.com

Lakshmi Anantnarayan: +(91) 9833922784, Lakshmi@storygarage.org

Shabana Diler: +(91) 9422081574, shabanadiler1@gmail.com

WeSpeakOut: For Women's Rights