Female Genital Mutilation – Free BangladeshMarch 27th, 2022
At least 30 countries in the world are thought to practise female genital mutilation (FGM). While they claim there are benefits to the procedure, research shows it does more harm than good. Fortunately for Bangladesh, this excessive and dangerous practice appears it is becoming obsolete. But, as Bangladeshi correspondent Monica Islam outlines, that does not mean the country is yet ‘out of the woods’.
“I was nine. A woman came to the house. They held me down and held my legs apart and she cut me with a razor and stitched me back up with acacia thorns,” said Jama, 40, a Somali mother.
This graphic vignette is not a detail from a movie or a book; it is a reality for minor girls in at least 30 countries, particularly in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, with concentrations in Egypt, Indonesia and Ethiopia. It is also practised by immigrant populations elsewhere. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), over four million young girls are at the risk of undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM) annually. What, then, is FGM and how does it affect countries, including Bangladesh?
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines female genital mutilation (FGM) as “the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”. Arrow, a regional non-profit women’s organization based in Malaysia, defines the least severe form of FGM as “the pricking, piercing, incising, scraping or cauterization of the genitalia carried out for non-medical purposes”.
This harmful practice is performed on very young girls so they are unable to consent or resist. However, it must be noted that consent itself – although resulting in less severe penalty for the practitioners in some European countries – does not make FGM beneficial, rightful, or legal.
Every research study has condemned FGM, which causes obstetric fistula, painful urination, urinary tract infection, prolonged obstructed labour, chronic incontinence, sepsis, and even death. Therefore, girls and women must make informed decisions before consenting to such an archaic and dangerous procedure.
FGM is almost always rooted in Abrahamic religions (i.e. Islam, Christianity and Judaism). Living in Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority nation, I am more inclined towards extrapolating the issue of FGM in Muslim societies. Islam Question and Answer, commonly known as IslamQA, is a Salafi-based website for Muslims that asserts the “medical benefits” of female circumcision.
It states that “circumcision of women is mustahabb (recommended) but not obligatory”. Still, this ‘recommendation’ puts undue pressure on girls and women to undergo the procedure so they can achieve greater divine rewards. The religious ruling does not outright ban the practice, but only downplays it.
“Circumcision reduces excessive sexual desire and takes away excessive libido from women,” the IslamQA website further adds. But according to Arrow, FGM “constitutes a violation of human rights, particularly on women and girls’ sexual and reproductive rights”.
It goes on to describe FGM as “an invasive procedure which asserts control over a female’s body, her sexuality, bodily autonomy (the right to control one’s own body) and bodily integrity (the right to autonomy and self-determination over one’s own body)”.
UNICEF estimates that there has been an overall worldwide decline in FGM in the last three decades. Fortunately, Arrow reveals that all six Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member states (Bangladesh, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, Algeria and Mauritania) have shared the view that the practice “had no basis in Islam”. Furthermore, it said Muslim-majority countries, such as Bangladesh, Angola and Saudi Arabia, found no reported incident of FGM, despite there being no legal ban or fatwa on the practice in these nations.
The tide has certainly shifted against FGM in Bangladesh. In fact, a Bangladeshi doctor relayed one experience in which he refused to perform the practice, saying: “Oh my God! This was a baby girl! Instantaneously I refused. I could not say it is ghastly bad practice but I said, ‘I do not know how to circumcise a girl as this is not practiced in our country – Bangladesh.’”
While Bangladesh has come a far way, this does not mean it can sit on its laurels. With the rise of Salafism (which recommends FGM) in Bangladesh, the country needs to be vigilant. In honour of our women and girls, we must pledge to keep Bangladesh free from the scourge of FGM.
To that end, Bangladesh needs to continue research and advocacy, especially targeted at health workers, religious leaders, men and women. The country may not have achieved its targets with regards to women’s rights in many other indices, but eradication of FGM is one development that Bangladesh can be proud of.
Photo Credit: Canva
About Monica Islam: I am just a writer-journalist waiting for a major breakthrough. I identify as a global citizen, but by birth, I am Bangladeshi – if this makes it any easier for you to talk to me. I read almost anything and everything. My interests are in the areas of health, education, sustainable development, and the leisure industry.