By Afiqa Ab Rahman
Recently I attended a workshop where participants from Singapore, Malaysia, India, and Thailand shared their experiences and discussed Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Variations of the term include Female Genital Cutting (FGC) or “Sunat Perempuan”.
It was intriguing to hear the experiences and research findings from various countries. But what intrigued me the most was to find that FGM was not considered a problem in some countries. The participants from Thailand, for example, shared that 100% of their women have been cut as it is seen as an identity marker of being Pattani Malay and nobody questioned it.
From speaking to women, the researcher from Malaysia offered some reasons that were given on why FGM is done. She explained that some mothers thought that it was an empowering choice for the mother to decide on her daughter’s circumcision because it wasn’t the father’s or any male family members who decided. A participant from India opposed this “empowering choice” concept. What I understood from her comment was that patriarchy was to blame for having women internalise FGM as “ideas of women” and think that the choices they make for their daughters are empowering. I couldn’t agree more.
In my opinion, what is empowering is accepting that your daughter has personal agency and that they can choose what to do (or not) to their bodies. What is empowering is also to have the courage to question the practice.
Personally, I had been cut as a child. In fact, all the women in my family have been cut. The doctor used a sharp knife to nick my clitoral hood. And in all honesty, if I hadn’t asked my mother whether I was circumcised, I wouldn’t have known. I thought my vulva showed no signs of circumcision. When I asked my mother why she had me circumcised, she explicitly stated that it was to “decrease my libido” –the very same reason why all the women in my family have gotten circumcised.
Let’s think about this – as a woman, and as a mother, does that sound right? Doesn’t nicking the clitoral hood, expose it to external stimulations? How would it “decrease the libido”? Isn’t it also very patronizing that the reason for circumcision is to prevent girls from “becoming promiscuous and going astray”? And if the purpose of circumcision is to decrease women’s libido, what is being done to decrease men’s libido?
I think what we should be doing is not just accept this practice without questioning. Why is “sunat perempuan” so shameful to discuss and deemed a taboo? I think it’s about time people are open to discussing this so as to decide whether it’s really beneficial and necessary. This could save people a lot of money (from not having to pay for the procedure). And in some countries, it could save many lives too.