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Female Genital Mutilation: Stigma for a civilized society

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By: Er. Prabhat Kishore

The practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)has been going on for more than thousands of years. It is the ritual procedure of partial or complete removal of the external female genitaliaor other injuries to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.  It is also called “Khatna” in local dialect.

This custom is a violation of the human rights of girls and women. To completely eliminate suchinhumane practices by the year 2030, the United Nations has included it in Target 5.3 of its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 6th February has been designated as ‘International Day of Zero tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation’ for public awareness as well as accelerating government remedial efforts.

The procedure of FGM varies from region to region and according to  ethnicity and the individual practitioner. It involves mixed socio-culture factors within a community and families. There are many myths about FGM. Some communities consider it necessary to control a girl’s sexuality, including  premature virginity and marital fidelity, in order to prepare her  for adulthood and marriage. Some societies term it a social obligation; although no religious script describes this cruel practice.

Victims of FGM face numerous short-term as well long-term complications in their bodies, such as excessive bleeding, irregular menstruation, severe chronic pain, difficulty urinating, infections, bladder problems, development of cysts, inability to get pregnant, complications during childbirth, mental problems, sexual health issues etc.In many cases there is danger of death or permanent deformation in new borne child of FGM victim mothers. The root cause of this custom in various communities is gender inequality and control over female sexuality.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has classified FGM into four categories- (1)Clitoridectomy –Partial or total removal of clitoral hoods and/or clitoral glans, which is a sensitive part of the female genitals, (2) Excision – Partial or total removal of the clitoris and labia minora, with or without the labia majora, (3) Infibulation–Narrowing the vaginal orifice with a covering seal (formed by cutting and repositioning labia minora and/or labia majora. , in which a small hole is left for passage of urine and menstrual fluid, (4) All other harmful procedure for non-medical purposes, such as pricking, piercing, incising, scraping, etc..

According to a UNICEF report, there are currently more than 20 Crore women and girls in 31 countries around the world , who have undergone some form of this harmful, often deadly, practice. More than 12000 girls every year are facing this cruel age-old ritual. Although the unreported exact data may be much higher than this.

FGM is a universal issue, but is more prevalent in Mali, Egypt, Guinea, Somalia, Sudan , Kenya, other African, Middle-East, and also in some Asian countries. In Bharat, this custom is followed by Daudi Bohra community. Despite being declared a human rights violation internationally, it persists for various social reasons.  Although after globalisation and with the expansion of education, this practice has slowed down; but still, we have miles to go for its complete eradication from the society. A key challenge  is to safeguard not only the girls currently at risk of FGM, but also to protect those to be born in future.

There is an urgent need for systematic and coordinated efforts involving the entire stakeholders comprised of parents, religious leaders, civil society representatives, health care personnel, educators, as well as policy-makers to eliminate FGM. The government should tackle this custom by enforcing strict law.In Bharat, this custom should also be outlawed on the tune of Triple Talaq and Sati Pratha.

The International Day of Zero tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation has a golden opportunity not only to focus efforts and successful interventions to eradicate FGM, but also to recognize the rights of women and girls to live free from all forms of violence, to have decision making powers over what happens to their bodies and have equal access to education, healthcare, employment, and leadership opportunity, which ultimately will strengthen their society and country.

(The author is a technocrat and an educationist)

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