Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): India's Dark Secret

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Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): India's Dark Secret 

“My mum told me, come, I will take you out and buy you chocolates. I happily went with her. She took me to bohri mohalla a cluster where 90% Bohras live. We went into this dark building. I remember being taken into a room. The curtains were drawn. She said to lie down. Like an obedient child, I lay. My grandmother was holding my hands. An old woman pulled down my pants…. I started crying. Grandma said don’t worry, it will be over in a jiffy. I shrieked in pain. I experienced a sharp, shooting pain and she put some black powder there. I came home and cried and cried and cried..”

This is the story of one victim, who was brave enough to come forward but she is not alone in her plight. She is merely a symbol, an echo of the dark horror of Female Genital Mutilation that exists in societies even today. It has mutated, changed forms, it hides in those dark corners, that shady gullies. The elite mainstream society pretends that this practice does not exist anymore however the evil continues, lurking just behind the bend. Recent worrying reports have shown that unnoticed this practice continues in the underbelly of Mumbai[1] and has pounced on many hapless girls and robbed them of their basic dignity. Female Genital Mutilation refers to all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injuries to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons (as defined by WHO). According to UN, globally it is estimated that at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of Female Genital Mutilation. It is most prevalent in Africa, Asia and some parts of the Middle East. In every society in which it is practiced, female genital mutilation is a manifestation of gender inequality that is deeply entrenched in social, economic and political structure. Female Genital Mutilation is the most harmful mass perpetuation of violence against women. The strong desire to control a woman’s sexuality stems from the deep-rooted inequality that exists between the two genders. However, genital mutilation is not restricted to just women. Even men are forced to undergo circumcision or removal of the foreskin of the genitalia. Circumcision was sanctioned by the ancient religious texts so as to prevent a man from pleasuring himself. This clearly indicates how sex for pleasure has always been condemned by the society and both men and women have been victimized by this dogmatic need to control an activity that is so personal and natural. It is also believed that circumcision helps in preventing the spread of AIDS and penile cancer, the operative term, however, is “believe”, as no scientific proof has yet been furnished about the same. Women have historically been victimised more than men from this practice. In many societies, this is a rite of passage, what turns a girl into a woman. Her desirability for marriage goes down drastically if she does not go through this traumatising process. It is also believed that genital mutilation prevents promiscuity and immorality in a girl. This process is very dangerous and poses great medical risks to a girl. Short-term health dangers include infection, excessive bleeding, inflammation, severe pain, shock, tetanus whereas long-term complications include difficulty during pregnancy, childbirth, menstruation, cysts, sexual dysfunction etc. Extremely harmful as this practice is, let us look at the legal provisions that ban this abominable practice-

Female Genital Mutilation: Legal provisions

Article 2 of the UNCEDAW[2], that is United Nations Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women bans all forms of sexual violence against women and includes Female Genital Mutilation as a form of sexual violence. India ratified the convention in July 1980, and therefore these provisions are applicable in India. Article 4 also says that States should condemn violence against women and should not invoke any custom, tradition or religious consideration to avoid their obligations with respect to its elimination. States should pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating violence against women. United Nations has recognized it as a human right violation. However, the sad truth is that Female Genital Mutilation is not explicitly banned in India! This is shocking, as a practice so barbaric deserves to have a place in the dark history of the ancient past, not in the modern world which boasts of women equality and women emancipation. The 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights was a landmark event in which two important developments occurred. First, ‘female genital mutilation’ became classified as a form of Violence Against Women (VAW); second, the issue of VAW was for the first time acknowledged to fall under the purview of international human rights law. This was historic as human rights law forms a part of ‘jus cogens’ or those principles of international law that cannot be set aside and can therefore be actionable in every state.

However, despite all this, some legal considerations come into question when discussing genital mutilation. Often the supporters of this practice quote Right to religious freedom as a tool to let this practice continue. However, it is pertinent to note that attached to the freedom clause is also the restriction clause which allows the state to interfere in religious matters if it affects the health, morality or public order. It is very clear that Genital Mutilation is directly related to health and therefore the right to religious freedom clearly does not stand. However, a question to consider is, if this practice is done, under proper medical supervision, with the woman’s consent, will it then be protected by Article 25? Will it become an expression of the woman’s culture? This question of consent deserves deeper consideration. The researcher feels that since cultural and societal pressures to practice Female Genital Mutilation are so strong, it is difficult to judge whether a woman is truly giving consent. There is almost always the question of whether she is undergoing Female Genital Mutilation because she wants to, or because she feels like she has to. This leads to the question: is it even possible to separate the two? Similarly, because FGM is a taboo subject that is not openly discussed; it is difficult to ensure that a girl or a woman knows all the facts and has all the information about Female Genital Mutilation before giving her permission to undergo the procedure. Questions like- How old does a woman or a girl need to be in order to make the decision to undergo Female Genital Mutilation, how does one ensure if free consent is given or not are also relevant. Apart from religious freedom, Right to culture is also quoted as to protect this practice. However, right to be protected from harmful cultural practices is also equally important. Female Genital Mutilation is a harmful tradition that violates women’s human’s rights, therefore it is not protected under the right to culture. Right to choice regarding one’s body is also very essential and protects people from this inhumane custom.

Challenges to the eradication of Female Genital Mutilation

Merely banning this practice will not help. The practice has been happening in the cover of the dark, through unscrupulous means and will continue to do so despite the ban. If anything, it will just deprive the victims of proper medical attention afterward as fear of the law will prevent them from seeking medical help. Gender sensitization and open discussions on sex remain the only feasible solution to counter this evil.

Female Genital Mutilation: Solution

Wider international involvement to stop Female Genital Mutilation should help. A worldwide stance against this practice can hopefully lead to a domino effect because when the practitioners see fellow practitioners abandoning the practice they are likely to follow suit. Another way is by involving Female Genital Mutilation survivors. Involving survivors will help ensure that prevention and support interventions are more likely to be accepted by communities and their practical knowledge will also be helpful.

Training on the consequences of Female Genital Mutilation should be provided to midwives who earn a living from carrying out Female Genital Mutilation will also help. Ensuring that these midwives get a job elsewhere is also vital as chances are that they may force this issue just to ensure their livelihood. Research shows that, if practicing communities themselves decide to abandon Female Genital Mutilation, the practice can be eliminated very rapidly. A genital mutilation is a grave form of abuse of young minds and bodies. Sensitization regarding the same is consequentially of paramount importance. Masooma Ranalvi, a Delhi-based publisher is a survivor of this practice and finally spoke up about it. She then went on to put her name on an online petition against the practice along with 17 other women who decided that they had to come out and speak up about the injustice meted out against them to stop further abuse. The researcher can only conclude by making a plea to all the readers to sign that petition and raise their voices in solidarity with these brave, brave women and end this evil once and for all.
[2]Article 2- Violence against women shall be understood to encompass, but not be limited to, the following:
(a) Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, including battering, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry-related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, non-spousal violence and violence related to exploitation;
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): India's Dark Secret Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): India's Dark Secret Reviewed by Nidhi Gupta on May 04, 2017 Rating: 5

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