Mother, please don’t sharpen your knife to cut your daughter’s genitalia as a rite of passage to womanhood. We need to call out the violent crime meted out to young girls who become victims of female genital mutilation (FGM). This is a practice that is still prevalent across many parts of the world. In India, the Dawoodi Bohra, Islamic community are practitioners of FGM. It is a hushed affair and what is alarming is that this is celebrated and propagated by the women in the family.
The women who are supposed to oppose this oppression, sadly defend this inhuman practice in the name of culture and religion. They celebrate the purity of the woman who is willing to silence her cries and bravely present herself to mutilate a part of her genitalia just for the sake of retaining a gender-skewed tradition, for which she often doesn’t find a valid reason to protest or stop the crime. She continues the cyclic story of FGM with the argument that this practice served her past generations and she must not break the tradition. After all, sexual repression is considered the most coveted quality among women cutting across all cultures.
Often the stories fed to the unaware victims are positively portrayed as part of their arrival into puberty and the gift of becoming closer to the idea of womanhood and what a good woman is all about. What isn’t told to these young girls, are the violent stories of women who have been rushed into hospitals after incessant, unstoppable bleeding, as a crude blade is used to cut a part of the genitalia, which sometimes leads to serious injuries and a septic private part. Most of the girls who are put under the blade are as young as 7 years of age, and they don’t understand the concept of FGM and the lifelong scar that follows them.
What is even more disturbing is that these young girls are gaslighted into thinking that this practice is being done for their own good. The ones cutting their genitalia are their well-wishers. Most of the victims are mentally dominated by their own families. Which is always either the grandmother, an aunt and sometimes unfortunately also their own mother. They are lauded for staying silent and stoic to allow a tradition which they don’t comprehend is completely rooted in sick subjugation and deep gender violence.
In Africa, many young girl’s breasts are ironed. These impressionable girls defend this abhorrent act saying that their mothers are their well-wishers and therefore they must be clubbed with an iron hot mace or bat over their breasts, to flatten them out. This is being done to protect them from being raped, or getting men excited with the sight of their growing breasts. The young girls are beaten flat across their chests to stop the breasts from growing and later bandaged to prevent further complications.
International efforts have been made by activists, writers and lawyers to raise awareness on the dangerous practices of FGM, and cases have been made to ban such practices in India. But in opposition, the Dawoodi Bohra women have argued for the procedure, citing their religious and cultural freedom as a means for its authorization. Despite legal efforts to ban FGM practices in India, it has not been recognized as prevalent in India and remains legal.
This brings us to turn the lens of gender identity and discrimination towards ourselves, as women. What are the reasons that stop us from becoming self-aware of what violation and harm really mean to us? What must be sexual freedom, equality and dignity? These are extremely difficult questions to answer for women who are raised in patriarchal societies that see no wrong in assault and sexual violence. They are totally brainwashed into acceptance.
What we need to emphasise, is personal autonomy and sexual agency. We need to have propagandists talking about how sex is not only a holy act of procreation but also an integral part of the human body that was created for pleasure.
Any harm or injury inflicted on a woman’s body is an abominable thing that must be addressed, punished and discussed threadbare. One must shame the family members, however close they are, who guiltlessly continue to sharpen their blades and knives to use them on a hapless young woman, who isn’t cognitive about what is right versus wrong for herself.
Mohua Chinappa is an author who runs a podcast called The Mohua Show.
Views expressed are the author's own.