Break the blade: Female Genital Mutilation
Updated: Apr 2
Surprisingly or not, when men are oppressed, it’s a tragedy. When women are oppressed, it’s tradition.
What it is
Female genital mutilation also called female circumcision, or khatna, is the total or partial removal of external female genitalia, like the visible part of the clitoris or the inner folds of the vulva. It also includes other injuries to female genital organs, for no apparent medical benefits. It is nearly always carried out on minors and children, majorly against their own will or knowledge. The purpose of this being majorly to control a woman’s body and tame their sexuality.
Why it’s done
The reasons for genital mutilation vary from one community to another, yet, never being good enough. Here are some of them:
Unquestioned social norms
A way to control her sexuality and prepare her for marriage
To ensure premarital virginity
To resist extramarital sexual acts by reducing her libido
Culturally painted ideas of femininity and modesty
Religious and community practices (for e.g. The Dawoodi Bohra community)
How it’s done
It is traditionally performed by a ‘designated community member’, sometimes using tools like razor blades, often without anesthetics or antiseptics.
As gruesome as it sounds, a practice as damaging as this is also classified into four types:
1. Removal of the external parts of the clitoris and the clitoral hood (the fold of the skin)
2. Removal of the clitoris and the labia (inner folds of the vulva)
3. Infibulation, is the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal formed by cutting and repositioning the labia, sometimes through stitching, with or without removal of the clitoral skin
4. All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.
To add to the physical, mental, and emotional trauma of undergoing FGM against their own will, increased health risks include immediate complications like:
- Severe pain and bleeding
- Tissue swelling
- Urinary problems (pain and infection)
Long term complications can reflect:
- Menstrual problems (painful periods)
- Scarred tissues
- Sexual problems (painful sex, decreased satisfaction)
- Complications with childbirth
- Need for later surgeries (cutting open the seal again to make sex and childbirth bearable)
- Psychological problems (post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression)
While we’re on the topic, here’s why male circumcision is not the same as FGM. The most significant difference is the reason behind the procedure. While male circumcision is the removal of the male foreskin for reasons of health and hygiene, it is not done to protect virginity or to reduce male sexual desire. Unlike FGM, male circumcision is not related to the control of men's sexual conduct. Male circumcision is an important part of both Islam and Judaism and is mentioned in both the holy books.
For families groped by the holds of ‘religion’ and ‘society’, it can be difficult to refuse to have their daughters cut. Many who oppose the practice often face condemnation or ostracism.
Fun fact: FGM has nothing to do with religion because Islam forbids it.
More than 3 million females are at risk of FGM annually, and more than 200 million females alive today have been victims of female genital mutilation.
FGM is an internationally recognized violation of human rights and more. It is also a violation of:
Right to health, security, and physical integrity
Right to be free from torture and inhuman treatment
Right to life
Additionally, the economic cost of treating health complications caused by FGM has been alarming.
It causes more harm than health and interferes with the natural functioning of female bodies. The risk of this practice increases with increasing severity, symbolizing everything we don’t want the world to be.
The procedure is nothing but a reflection of deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and is an extreme form of discrimination against the so-called ‘weaker' gender. Young vagina-owners all over struggle to raise a voice against this entrenched social norm that promotes violence against them. What they get in return instead, is a whole lot of cultural silence.
Still, there has been significant progress made in eliminating the practice in the past 30 years. Sadly, the progress doesn’t apply everywhere. In some parts, communities, and regions, the practice remains as prevalent and fresh as ever.
Medicalizing the practice does not make it any safer or legally correct. There is no such thing as ‘safe’ FGM. Medicalization may perpetuate this human rights violation by giving FGM a false sense of security or legitimacy due to the authority, strength, and respect accorded to medical practitioners. It always causes complications as it interferes with and destroys the natural functioning of the human body.
The only way to get out of this is collective abandonment, led by the entire community, to ensure disadvantages to no one.
Though multiple initiatives continue to fight against this monstrous practice, millions of girls and women all over long to preserve their physical integrity, protect their body and upload their fundamental human rights.
Written by Nibha Patil
Artwork by Khyati Patkar