How many of us really know about what Female Genital Mutilation and circumcision entails? While the Supreme Court is examining the issue, women and child development minister, Maneka Gandhi, recently released a statement saying if the Dawoodi Bohra Community, which is two million strong in India, does not ban it by itself, then the Indian government will interfere in the matter and prohibit the practice.
Additionally, a UNICEF report observed in 2016 that 200 million women living today in 30 countries—27 African countries, Indonesia, Iraqi Kurdistan and Yemen—have undergone the procedures.
During a conversation held by Apne Aap Women Worldwide last week, Alka Raza, who has authored ‘Myths of Female Genital Mutilation’ based on extensive research in Middle East and Africa, talked to Priya Gowswami, co-founder of Sahiyo, a transnational organisation striving to end FGC. Alka spoke about how FGM works in African countries while Priya shed light on the Indian counterpart of the issue.
“The community calls the clitoris –‘haraam ki boti’- because they think that it will give women more sexual urges. It is believed that just like a penis gets an erection, a clit gets an erection as well, so it needs to be slit so it does not drive a woman insane with sexuality,” explains Priya Gowswami
THE HISTORY OF FGM AND MYTH BREAKING
Raza said that the practice emerged in the Nile valley about 6000 years ago. Her research work concluded that it was not Christianity, Islam or any other religion that gave birth to FGM. “I started getting more historical references for my book and I found that historians have discovered women from 5 century BC with circumcision. An Italian historian had clearly written in his travelogue, while travelling to West Africa or Black Africa, that a circumcised woman or a slave would always bring better price in the slavery market because that meant that she is a virgin,” said Raza about how she started researching for her book and unravelling the mystery surrounding FGM.
TYPES OF FGM
There are four types of FGM observed in the world and mainly in African countries. The first, also called as clitoridectomy, is when a small part of a girl’s clitoris is cut. Then, there is the second method or excision where a bit of labia along with the clitoris is cut. The third or the most severe of all the forms is infibulations when almost every part of the vagina is circumcised and then stitched. In many countries like Ethiopia, Somalia etc, they leave a very small aperture for urine and menstrual blood to pass through. And the fourth type consists of pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization of a woman’s genitalia.
When African woman started telling Alka about their circumcision after much resistance, it occurred to her that women do not even have control over their vagina. “Forget about our marriage, education, job, liberty etc. Right from our childhood, we are told that we have to wear undergarments to protect our genitals,” remarked Alka.
FGM AND FGC- THE DIFFERENCE
She further enlightened about the beliefs people have to circumcise women. “People who do it believe that every man has some feminine in them and every woman has shades of masculinity in them and the clitoris might grow like a penis so one has to cut it to protect women’s sexual desires from growing.”
Priya then took over and elucidated on the difference between FGM and FGC, as she calls it, which is practised in India. C is for cutting in FGC. In India, the Dawoodi Bohra community that practises FGC completely or partially removes the clitoris of young girls for similar beliefs as the African counterparts.
FGC IN INDIA AND HOW IT WORKS HERE
Priya, who shot a documentary titled “A Pinch of Skin” on the issue a few years back, articulated, “Imagine being a seven-year-old girl and your mother or grandmother takes you for an ice cream. Then they push you into a room where your female guardian practically makes you believe that it is all okay that your underwear is pulled down and then your clitoris is taken out.”
“Apart from the enormous pain, there is also a sense of betrayal at a very young age from your female elders that they lied to you,” added Priya.
In India, FGC happens at the age of seven specifically because the community wants you to remember that at this age when it happens, you are not young enough to die of the pain and old enough to remember the practice, so it is passed on from you to your children. “The community calls the clitoris –‘haraam ki boti’- because they think that it will give women more sexual urges. It is believed that just like a penis gets an erection, a clit gets an erection as well so it needs to be slit so it does not drive a woman insane with sexuality,” informed Priya.
She said that when Alka talks about the time two decades back when she was researching for the book, no one knew or talked about FGM/C. Even two decades later when she made the documentary, nothing much had changed. The silence was unreal.
“Nobody knew about it, nobody confessed and nobody wanted to open up. And everybody kept reverberating that it does not happen in India. It has been a ground zero for us to start from,” she recalled about the time when she started studying the subject for her documentary.
Her film is based on hands, feet, body gestures and suggestive visuals because that is the extent of secrecy in the community about the issue. “This is such a private matter that they did not risk revealing their identities in the fear of social boycott. This practice does not just work on the level of suppressing a girl and violating her body, it also works as social control. The idea behind FGC is to get the girl married, keep her sexuality in check. Nobody actually checks, trip down panties and search for it but there is this giant fear created in the mind that if you don’t get your daughter mutilated, you will be ostracised and she won’t get married.”
The people propagating ideas of mythical excessive sexuality in women are none other than your own mothers, aunts and grandmothers and not men who have undergone circumcision themselves.
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