My daughter is the joy of my life. There was no way I could have her cut.

by Ashraf Engineer

Age: 41
Country: India

Picture this if you can without your heart racing and eyes welling up. A girl, let’s say she’s seven years old, is dressed up by her mother and told she’s being taken for a walk and an ice cream. She clings to her mother’s arm in glee and follows her, secure and happy. She is led to a house in the neighbourhood where her mother undresses her and holds her down. A strange woman removes a razor blade and in a single, heart-stopping motion cuts the child’s clitoral hood.

The pain will ebb, the flowing blood will stanch but the scars will remain for life. A child has been damaged and her trust broken.

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I hail from the Dawoodi Bohra community where female genital cutting (FGC) is prevalent but the thought of subjecting my little girl to it never once entered my mind. She is the joy of my life, she gives it meaning. There was no way I could do that to her.

Among the many ugly manifestations of patriarchy, I believe FGC is perhaps the most horrific. We see everywhere how society feels the need to control every aspect of a woman’s life – from whether she can live after she is born and whether she can get an education to whom she can marry and when. This attitude often extends to controlling her sexuality – through FGC.

FGC is one of the most serious human rights issues before us today. It is an ongoing practice rarely talked about even by those who have undergone it, and it is not part of the public consciousness. Like marital rape and abuse, it exists around us but is rarely thought about.

According to UNICEF data, there are at least 200 million girls and women across 30 countries who have been cut. If they were to form a country, it would be the sixth most populous in the world. We are looking at an alarming crime against humanity that needs our urgent attention.

FGC is illegal in many countries – a United Nations resolution against it was signed by 194 countries in 2012 – but its abandonment will require more than a law.

Since the root of the problem is patriarchy, a social system in which males are all-powerful and wield great authority over women, men must become an integral part of the solution. FGC is perpetrated on women, but I believe it’s done to satisfy the male craving for control of female sexuality. Indeed, societies in which FGC is practised tend to be dominated by men.

It’s time for men to speak out against this harmful practice. It’s their duty, and their collective voice will matter. If they wish to, they can make a difference. Men need to stand up and be counted – primarily as fathers of girls in danger.

This will help men too. Secure, happier women are necessary for stronger, fulfilling relationships and a progressive society.

Here are a few steps that can be taken immediately by individuals and governments:

  • Pass a law that criminalises FGC in India. The movement against this practice is gaining momentum and it’s time for the government to act.
  • Start a nationwide awareness and education initiative – targeting men especially – that underscores FGC’s psychological impact as well as the danger to societal health.
  • Make awareness about FGC a part of sex education in schools.

As the father of a young girl, even the thought of FGC creates a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach. That such cruelty can be wreaked on anyone, let alone a child that has no clue of what is happening to her, breaks my heart.

As a father, your primary instinct is to protect your daughter and help her grow. You can’t do that by mutilating her body and shattering her trust.

(Ashraf Engineer, a former journalist, is a communication and marketing consultant. He recently released his first book, a Kindle-only release titled Bricks of Blood.)

(Note from Sahiyo: As an individual, another immediate step you can take to help bring an end to FGC is to sign this petition by Sahiyo and 31 international organisations. Click here.)

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Sahiyo participates in kick-off event for Women’s March in Frankfurt, Germany

On January 20th, the Modern Abolitionist Global Campaign will start a two day campaign, with a kick -off event that will be a screening of movies dealing with gender violence and discrimination against women.

The following day, on January 21st, the Modern Abolitionist Global Campaign will hold the Frankfurt Women’s March on Washington.

Sahiyo will support the kick-off event, in which there will be a screening of A Pinch of Skin, a documentary produced by Sahiyo’s co-founder Priya Goswami, on the topic of female genital cutting in the Dawoodi Bohra community.

During the event, Sahiyo co-founders will be be joining via Skype for a Q&A session with audience members. The documentary, Girl Rising, about the importance of educating girls to break the cycle of poverty will also be screened. To learn more, contact the organizers here.

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Speak Out on FGM petition to the UN collects more than 500 signatures

In December 2015, Speak Out on FGM – a collective of Bohra khatna survivors – launched a signature petition on Change.org, appealing to various ministers in the Indian government to end Female Genital Cutting (khatna) in India. It was the first time that 17 Bohra women had publicly come out, as signatories, to speak against the practice, and the petition helped break the silence on Khatna both in the community and the media. Today, the petition has amassed more than 83,000 supporters.

A year since this pioneering petition, on December 10, 2016, Speak Out on FGM launched a new petition on Change.org, this time addressed to the United Nations. The petition was launched on Human Rights Day – the last day of the global 16 Days of Activism campaign to end gender-based violence, and it has already received 544 supporters.

The new petition reflects the growing, open support for the cause of ending khatna: this time, 32 Bohra women listed their names as signatories to the petition.

This petition is an appeal by survivors of khatna, calling upon the United Nations to strengthen its recognition of India as one of the countries where FGC is practiced.

While UN agencies do acknowledge that FGC is prevalent in “certain ethnic groups in Asian countries…in India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka”, Indonesia is the only one of these countries that is included in the UN’s official FGC-prevalence statistic of 200 million girls cut in 30 countries. Girls cut in India are thus excluded from these statistics of global prevalence (learn more here).

More global recognition of FGC would help spread awareness on the issue of khatna in India. More significantly, it would help Bohra women and men make official appeal to the Indian government to take policy-level steps to end FGC.

Currently, there is no law against FGC in India, and the matter is still barely recognised as prevalent in the Indian Bohra community. Since the religious and administrative headquarters of the Bohras are located in Mumbai, and since India houses approximately half the international Bohra population of 1.5 to 2 million, ending khatna in India can go a long way in ending the practice among all Bohras.

Through this petition, Speak Out on FGM hopes to speed up the process of instituting government and international mechanisms to highlight and promote measures to eradicate FGC.

To sign the petition, click here.

Invest in ending FGC in Asia: Why Sahiyo and 33 organisations are petitioning the U.N.

(TO READ AND SIGN THE PETITION, CLICK HERE

According to the United Nations, at least 200 million women in 30 countries have been subjected to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C). However, these statistics are largely restricted to sub-Saharan Africa and ignore the global scope of the issue. Indonesia, where half the girls under age 11 have undergone FGC, was included in the U.N’s list of 30 countries as recently as 2016. This official data still leaves out a large number of women from other countries – particularly in Asia – where FGC has been reported.

FGM/C is known to occur in India, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Maldives, Brunei, Russia (Dagestan), Bangladesh, and IranYet, Asian countries fall outside the scope of the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme to Accelerate the Abandonment of FGM/C.  As a result, almost no resources have been invested to collect data and provide support services to women and girls who are affected by this violation of their human rights in these countries.

For the first time ever, the United Nations has prioritized the elimination of FGM/C under the goal of achieving gender equality as part of its Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) a 15-year plan to help guide global development and funding in the “areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet”.

But how can this particular SDG be met by 2030, if no resources are devoted to understanding the nature and prevalence of FGC amongst Asian communities both in Asia and amongst diaspora populations migrating from these countries all over the world? How can we advance gender equality if we are not inclusive of every country where FGC is reported, even if it is only anecdotally?

Currently, no national or representative data exists in these countries, meaning that potentially millions of girls and women are being left out of the statistic. Millions of little girls are being forgotten. This oversight has, unfortunately, has also led to a lingering misconception that FGC takes place only in Africa and certain parts of the Middle East.

Yet, in 2015, when Sahiyo pursued a small scale online study to understand the extent of FGC amongst the Dawoodi Bohras, we found that FGC was practiced amongst 80% of the community’s women. 

FGC in Asian communities has largely been ignored by the international agencies primarily because there is minimal research and evidence to show the extent of the practice. Without this vital data collection, it is difficult to pass legislation and policies to end FGC, to design outreach and education programmes and also to train social workers, health professionals and child welfare personnel on how to recognize, respond to and intervene sensitively in cases of FGC.   

This is why Sahiyo and 33 other civil society organisations from across the world are now petitioning the U.N. to take the issue of FGM/C in Asia more seriously.

This Change.org petition calls upon the global community, particularly the United Nations, international foundations and donor countries/agencies, to put in more funding, support, and resources towards research, data collection, advocacy and survivor-centred support facilities in the above-mentioned Asian countries.  

As we begin 2017, we believe it would be wonderful if the international community can take this up as a New Year’s resolution in our collective journey towards ending FGC.

TO READ AND SIGN THE PETITION, CLICK HERE

The coalition of organisations that have co-signed the petition are:

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