My experience of learning about female genital cutting: An outsider’s perspective

By Madrisha Debnath

Not belonging to a community where female genital cutting (FGC) is practiced, I have often faced questions on how I can understand how the practice could occur if I am an outsider and the religion or culture I grew up in never condoned it. Interestingly, those who have questioned me have been peers at my university, who also did not come from FGC-practicing communities. But, each of us have grown up in a certain cultural community that has performed certain traditions or norms for generations. In other words, the societies we live in have constructed certain social norms and practices that are followed by its members to keep it going. Therefore, understanding this perspective, one can relate to the practice of FGC according to their own social position and be reflexive in terms of their subjectivity. 

When I first learned about female genital cutting, I was shocked by the physical pain a child undergoes to fit into the heterosexual matrix regulated by the institution of marriage. Not knowing anything about the practice or having experienced it, but being a female with a clitoris, I could not bear the distress of understanding how painful it must be to be cut at the site of more than 8,000 sensory nerve endings. 

I kept on watching and re-watching documentaries, the narratives on FGC, and listening to survivors’ stories. The more I listened to their stories in an attempt to understand the social process, the more I felt the survivors’ trauma. I tried to understand the agency of the women, particularly the role of a mother or grandmother taking part in the very system that regulated their own body. Why is it that the mother, the one who could possibly be the most sympathetic toward the child, could subject her daughter’s body to FGC? 

According to the stories of the survivors, even in cases when the memory of the cut may be repressed, the “body memory” can remember the pain. The effect of the trauma may be repeated every month as the girl hits puberty, during intimacy, and again potentially through her future daughter’s experience with FGC. The first thing I could relate to culturally from my own social construct was how the institution of marriage itself works. In my opinion, marriage is actually a relation from a man (the father) to another man (the husband), whereby the woman is transferred as the symbol of lineage. When the occasion of marriage takes place, generally a change in location takes place for the woman, as her guardianship is being transferred. 

I recently attended my brother’s wedding in India whereby the next morning my sister-in-law had to leave her house and come to our place of residence. Although belonging from the groom’s side, I was supposed to be rejoicing and welcoming my new sister-in-law. But I couldn’t hold my tears as the bride left her family. Being a girl, I could not withstand the final moments of my sister-in-law departing from her mother. The bride and her mother burst into tears. The ritual of Kanyadaan, or giving away the female child with the virtue of generosity and charity, performed by the father of the bride to her husband, ensures her transfer from her father’s family to her husband’s family as a symbol of lineage. 

Before leaving her father’s family the daughter performs kanakanjali, which involves paying off her mother’s debt. But is it possible to pay off a mother’s debt? The mother, who had once undergone the same rituals and practices, may have once felt the pain of leaving her family aside, but now it is her daughter who has to undergo the same practices. How can the mother hold her tears? She had to once leave her family and now her daughter is undergoing the same practice.

There have also been counter spaces of resistances within the communities against these norms. For example, in my community now, female priestesses are challenging the perception that a priest could only be someone who is male since the female body was not considered to be “pious” for performing rituals because of the taboo of menstruation associated with them. Challenging this perception, the female priestesses are performing marriage rituals without the norm of kanyadan. The women are advocating marriage to be a union between two equals and that one cannot be given away as a gift to another. The rituals that are being performed by the female priestess simply denote the union of two families, where the bride is not considered as a “gift” since she is not a commodity which can be simply given away. 

Drawing a parallel between the norm of marriage and the transference of guardianship of the woman from the cultural institution I belong to, to that of how FGC can continue is how I can understand how rituals or practices can continue generation after generation. We perform them because they have been performed by others before us in our communities. 

The questions that I’m left with are whether there is actually any choice by the girl or woman herself to undergo the practices whether in the example of marriage I gave or by the girl who undergoes FGC?  And in the case of FGC, is it the mother or the grandmother who chooses to facilitate the practice to be performed on their daughter, or is it the performative nature of tradition that keeps the practice going, being repeated and recited again and again?

Female genital cutting: A poem

By Zainab Khambata

Country of Residence: India

As the blade pierced through my skin,

All I could feel was pain.

I looked into my mom’s eyes,

And she shrugged helplessly in vain.

I was yet another girl,

Subjected to female genital cutting.

As a mere child of seven,

I did not contest,

I wasn’t even aware,

That all my dignity as well as my rights,

Were stripped from me bare.

“It is done in the name of religion,” they said.

And it is this ideology I dread.

It is done to curb a woman’s desires,

To subdue her voice and her fire.

My grandmother said “It’s all right, all girls must go through this in their life.”

Why has society rendered women unaware?

To the point where they do not know and do not even care.

They torment innocent children,

With everlasting scars,

But yet this practice they refuse to stop,

Fearing from society’s eyes they will drop.

When will this age-old tradition come to an end?

So that without emotional trauma,

The rest of their lives little girls can spend.

It is time to speak up about this,

And make people aware,

It’s time to show that we care.

Sahiyo Volunteer Spotlight: Social Media Intern Kamakshi Arora

Kamakshi Arora is a social media intern for Sahiyo. She is a multidisciplinary designer, artist, and researcher. She has a bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering from NC State and a Masters in Product Design from The University of The Arts. Originally from Mumbai, India, she moved to the United States to pursue higher studies. She is particularly interested in using a transdisciplinary, participatory approach to design strategies for addressing current gender inequities, and to co-create meaningful initiatives to tackle women’s rights and health issues. She supports Sahiyo’s mission of empowering women through innovative grassroots initiatives based on storytelling and community engagement and is grateful for the opportunity to learn more about working in a feminist organization. 

1) When and how did you first get involved with Sahiyo?

It was early in the year, and I really wanted to volunteer and support a feminist organization that was working for gender equity and reform. My thesis was on the concept of healing for survivors of sexual assault. I wanted to find an organization that was doing similar work and as soon as I found out about Sahiyo, I knew I had found that place.  Sahiyo’s approach of combining storytelling and advocacy really caught my eye. I’m also from Mumbai so it felt like a great fit to be a part of an organization that was based out of my home.

2) What does your work with Sahiyo involve?

Right now I’m mostly involved in social media. This includes programming and developing content, sharing articles and educational information on our channels, and maintaining our persona online. As a designer, I love that I can be creative as I have used my artwork and drawing as a way to advance Sahiyo’s program. I try to subtly use my training in human-centered design and trauma-informed principles in the work that I create for Sahiyo. 

3) How has your involvement with Sahiyo impacted your life?

Greatly. For one thing, I saw the power of storytelling in all its forms. Sahiyo taught me to be coherent and persevering with our messages and how we can write a story that supports the purpose of our mission. Second, my perspectives as an intersectional feminist have expanded. I was not aware of female genital cutting (FGC) before. I have learned much about the issue of FGC and its existence in the broader context of women’s subjugation in our society and cultures. I’m now a lifelong advocate and ally of Sahiyo’s mission and will continue to use my own skills to do my bit. 

4) What words of wisdom would you like to share with others who may be interested in supporting Sahiyo and the movement against FGC?

Please do not be afraid to learn and inquire about female genital cutting. By asking questions and speaking actively, we are contributing to Sahiyo’s mission to end FGC. Share our stories, attend our workshops, make a donation, and/or volunteer. It’s all so informative, and you’ll leave with a wealth of resources to do your own advocacy.

Dear Maasi: “How do I move past the shame of being cut?”

Dear Maasi is a column highlighting everything you want to know about sex and relationships, but were afraid to ask. It’s a partnership between Sahiyo and WeSpeakOut. It’s for all of us who have questions about female genital cutting (FGC) or khatna, and how it impacts our bodies, minds, sexuality and relationships. We welcome you to submit your anonymous questions.

Dear Maasi

I have a question about the deep shame I hold for being cut. It is so toxic and permeates throughout my life. How can I move past it?

Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

Shame is an important topic that doesn’t get addressed enough—thanks for asking this question. 

Shame results when our inner critic judges us harshly, most often about things we’ve had little or no control over. These judgements come from the negative or abusive messages imposed on us as children. Shame doesn’t just criticize our behaviours but something more integral: our worth as human beings. For this reason it can impact all aspects of our lives.

Khatna, or female genital cutting, stamps shame on the body. As kids, we don’t have the capacity to understand why a confusing and painful thing is happening to us. The taboo and secretive nature of the practice reinforces the shame. Most children turn the blame and shame inward, rather than pointing it at the trusted caregivers who are betraying us.

So how do we begin to resolve shame? There are many paths to healing:

  • Begin to intentionally cast a compassionate gaze upon yourself. At first, your affirmations may feel false, but with repetition, that will change.
  • View your inner shamer as a child-like protector who functions to keep you feeling small and worthless in order to avoid further harm. Thank it for its diligent work and remind it that you’ve grown up and have other resources for feeling safe. This is an Internal Family Systems approach. Learn more through this 14-minute video.
  • Seek out a trauma therapist who can help you work through the khatna. Doing so enabled me to identify the child-logic (the ways I made “sense” of the traumatic moment as a kid) that led to me internalizing the blame. This child-logic had long legs that impacted many aspects of my life, including self-expression, romantic relationships, friendships and work. Check out my January 2021 column for tips on finding a therapist.
  • Debunk the myths you’ve learned about your sexuality and body. Most of us have learned that our genitals are “bad” or “wrong” or “dirty.” If we don’t shame our elbows, why would we shame our vulvas?  
  • Talk to other khatna survivors or listen to their stories. This will remind you that you’re not alone, and not to blame.

Anonymous, healing from shame takes time and effort, but it is possible. I wish you all the best in this journey! 

—Maasi

About Maasi, aka Farzana Doctor: Farzana is a novelist and psychotherapist in private practice. She’s a founding member of WeSpeakOut and the End FGM/C Canada Network. She loves talking about relationships and sexuality! Find out more about her at http://www.farzanadoctor.com. Disclaimer: While Farzana is full of good advice, this column won’t address everyone’s individual concerns and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical or psychological care.

Women should not be harmed because of societal norms 

By Sakshi Rajani 

Age: 17

Country: India

Female genital cutting (FGC): the term sounded ruthless the first time I heard it. It was not long ago that I was introduced to this term. While going through my Instagram feed, I read a story about a law student who was spreading awareness about FGC, and I was clueless about what it was. Immediately I searched this issue online and learned how serious it was. Then, I pondered why I hadn’t known about it earlier. Why had no one around me talked about it? 

Upon researching it further, I came to know how deeply rooted this problem was in communities and cultures. My will to do something to end it became stronger. I looked for organisations working to end FGC and came across Sahiyo. I soon joined the organisation. 

The first time I spoke about FGC to my friends they said, “What is that?” I wasn’t surprised by their reaction because I, too, was unfamiliar with it. I asked them to research it on their own, and then I explained more about the harms. I told them the World Health Organization and the United Nations declared FGC a human rights violation. Then I introduced them to the groundbreaking Mumkin app created by two co-founders of Sahiyo, Priya Goswami and Aarefa Johari, where my friends could learn more valuable information about this issue.

What are the hurdles in encouraging abandonment of or ending FGC? FGC is also often seen as a necessary ritual for initiation into womanhood and can be linked to cultural ideals of femininity, purity and modesty. A strong incentive to continue the practice is family pressure to adhere to conventional social norms. Women who break from this social norm can face condemnation, abuse and rejection from family or community members. Patriarchal society can help perpetuate it generation after generation. 

Female genital cutting should stop immediately, as a woman should have full rights over her body and no woman should be harmed because of societal norms and expectations. I am now an advocate to make sure FGC ends.

Saved by a lie: A story of female genital cutting

By Zainab Khambata

Age: 17

Place of residence: Mumbai, India

My maternal grandmother prides herself on being the perfect blend of modernity and religion. But when it came to her own daughter who is my mother, in spite of her misgivings, she still fell in line and got my mother circumcised or cut. Ask my grandmother why she did it and the reasons are numerous. Her mother asked her to do it. She lived in a joint family and all the cousins were cut. She didn’t know how to openly defy social norms and say no. The oddly mystifying voice of reason: if everybody is doing it, maybe it is the right thing to do. That is how Bohri women still continue to be cut in this day and age by their mothers and aunts and grandmothers. 

My mother still remembers the day she was cut as a child very vividly. She wasn’t told anything at all, simply pounced upon by her aunts and a “maasi,” or auntie, who used a razor on her. Then she was asked to rest to let the bleeding stop, given a bar of chocolate, and as a bonus, no school the next day. Life went on for my mother as usual without any mention of the incident or what had transpired. 

All was good and forgotten until my paternal grandmother started hounding my mom to get me cut. It was this whole maahol, or social environment, where mothers of girls my age were more than happy to play reminder and ask if I was cut yet because they had already had their little girls cut. My mom read about it and realised the physical repercussions of it, the bleeding and scarring, emotional repercussions and trauma, and in some cases, even sexual frigidity. You may never really forget what happens to you even though you are not informed about it at all. Upon inquiry, my mom never got a satisfactory answer as to why girls are cut besides the fact that it’s Sunnat, or encouraged. Some moms said it was for hygiene purposes; others said it would keep a girls’ potentially “sinful” thoughts of a sexual nature at bay. But the final straw was when she was told it may heighten mental and physical intimacy between couples. She realised then that many people have a myriad of confusing reasons to justify cutting.

When the pressure became too much from my grandmother and the other moms around her, my mother resorted to the only way she knew to keep me safe, by telling everyone that the deed was already done.

My paternal grandmother, who was hell bent on getting me circumcised like all my cousins to uphold her own religious morals and beliefs, made it a point to cross-check with my maternal grandmother whether I was truly cut. My maternal grandmother was smart enough to say yes, mostly to atone to my mom and not let history repeat itself for the sake of my bodily autonomy. In this way, my paternal grandmother was satisfied and she let it rest once and for all.

My mom had actually managed to prevent my cutting by telling everyone I had undergone the practice. Ingenious or devious? No matter what, I am grateful.

Dear Maasi: “Did khatna impact my sex life or is it all in my head?”

Dear Maasi is a column highlighting everything you want to know about sex and relationships, but were afraid to ask! It’s a partnership between Sahiyo and WeSpeakOut. It’s for all of us who have questions about female genital cutting (FGC) or khatna, and how it impacts our bodies, minds, sexuality and relationships. We welcome you to submit your anonymous questions.

Dear Maasi, 

I find that many survivors of female genital cutting (FGC) either have not experienced or been vocal about the negative impact of FGC on their sexual experiences. Am I in the minority? It feels that some of the impact may be in my head and not real. How can I explore that aspect of my personal experience?

Anam

Dear Anam,

Sex and khatna can be considered taboo subjects, which means that people can be very shy about sharing their true experiences. Let’s change that!

In previous columns, I’ve referenced recent research done by Sahiyo and WeSpeakOut, that estimates around 30-35% of khatna survivors report a negative impact on their sexual lives:

  • fear, anxiety, shame, and difficulty trusting sexual partners 
  • low arousal, inability to feel sexual pleasure and over sensitivity in the clitoral area 

In conversations with women, I’ve also heard about sexual pain, which I addressed in depth in October’s column. In my own process of healing, I’ve needed to understand freeze responses and how to address them through mindfulness.

In the Sahiyo study, another 32% said they “didn’t know” if khatna had an impact on their sexuality, which raises questions for me. I think that most of us are not trauma-informed or sexuality-literate enough to answer this question because we often don’t know how to interpret and trust our feelings and sensations. All of this can lead to confusion and feeling like we’re imagining things.

For example, consider that trauma memories can be inaccessible, or fuzzy, or surreal-feeling:

“Trauma memories are often implicit, because trauma floods our brain with cortisol, the stress hormone, which shuts down the part of our brain that encodes memories and makes them explicit. Our implicit memories can be like invisible forces in our lives, impacting us in powerful ways.” (https://www.psychalive.org/making-sense-of-implicit-memories/)

These invisible forces are the living legacy of trauma. The traumatized part of us can remain on guard even if our adult self intellectually knows we’re safe. 

One way to explore this further is to learn more about trauma and sexuality. Review some of my past columns and peruse some of the short videos and article links. 

Many people find it helpful to talk with a trauma and sexuality trained psychotherapist who can help you to notice, understand and shift your responses. (Check out January 2021’s column for details on how to find someone with those skills.) 

Anam, I hope you’ll offer yourself the gift of this exploration and sexual healing. Sexual pleasure is our birthright!

—Maasi

About Maasi, aka Farzana Doctor: Farzana is a novelist and psychotherapist in private practice. She’s a founding member of WeSpeakOut and the End FGM/C Canada Network. She loves talking about relationships and sexuality! Find out more about her at http://www.farzanadoctor.com

Disclaimer: While Farzana is full of good advice, this column won’t address everyone’s individual concerns and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical or psychological care.

Four women who were pivotal to the movement to end female genital cutting

By Megan Maxwell

The movement to end female genital cutting (FGC) has been in effect starting as far back as the latter half of the 19th century through the voices, writing, and research of women who have worked for the rights of women and girls. FGC is present in 92 countries. In honor of Women’s History Month, Sahiyo is honoring four women from Egypt, India, Senegal, and Austria who changed the world for women and girls.

Nawal El Saadawi & her brutal honesty

Nawal El Saadawi, a doctor, feminist and writer, who was born in a community outside of Cairo, Egypt, was a survivor of FGC. She campaigned against FGC and for the rights of women and girls throughout her life. She started by speaking out against her family’s preconceived notions about the trajectory of a girl’s life and then used her voice to condemn FGC and women’s rights abuses through her books. 

She wrote many books including The Hidden Face of Eve, a powerful account of brutality against women, and saw women live those realities detailed in the book within the communities in which she worked as a medical doctor. She was a crusader but her work was banned. She was imprisoned and suffered death threats. Through her work, she championed for the rights of girls and women globally for decades. She died on March 21st at 89 years old

Rehana Ghadially & All for Izzat

In 1991, Rehana Ghadially wrote an article entitled All for Izzat in which she examined the prevalence of female genital cutting and its justification. For this article, she interviewed about 50 Bohra women and found the three most common reasons given for FGC: it is a religious obligation; it is a tradition; and it is done to curb a girl’s sexuality. 

Through these interviews, Ghadially revealed that the procedure of FGC was anything but symbolic. “The girl’s circumcision has been kept an absolute secret not only from outsiders but from the men of the community,” she said.

Ghadially experienced FGC when she was very young. Her research allowed her to share with the world the reality of what Bohra girls and women go through as a result of FGC.        

Ndéye Maguette Diop & the Malicounda Bambara community

The community of Malicounda Bambara in Senegal, West Africa, was substantially influenced by the Community Empowerment Program (CEP): a program established by Tostan that engages communities in their languages on themes of democracy, human rights (including female genital cutting), health, literacy, and project management skills. In July of 1997, the CEP empowered the women of Malicounda Bambara to announce the first-ever public declaration to abandon female genital cutting to the world. Ndéye Maguette Diop was the facilitator for the CEP in Malicounda Bambara. She guided them through the program, which is designed to not pass judgment on the practice, but simply to provide information regarding FGC and its health risks.

Diop used theater, a traditional mode of African communication and arts, as a means to better facilitate the exchange of ideas. “The women didn’t have any knowledge of these rights beforehand and had never spoken of FGC between themselves,” Diop said. As the result of reenacting a play, these women started to talk about FGC frequently with Diop and she said they “decided to speak about the harmful consequences on women’s health caused by the practice with their ‘adoptive sisters’ [a component of the CEP], as well as with their husbands.” 

Thanks to Diop, the conversation on FGC was opened up to the women of Malicounda Bambara. They took it upon themselves to investigate within their community until they concluded that the practice should be abandoned.

Fran Hosken & her ideas of global sisterhood

In 1975, Fran Hosken began writing her newsletter, Women’s International Network News where she reported on the status of women and women’s rights around the globe. The tagline for her newsletter was, “All the news that is fit to print by, for & about women,” and it featured regular sections on Women and Development, Women and Health, Women and Violence, and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Every issue of her newsletter had a section on FGM, including names and addresses for her subscribers to get more information on activities surrounding FGC around the world. Hosken was an American feminist and writer, but she was very involved in the livelihoods of women and girls around the globe.
Her newsletter became popular for its research into female genital cutting and she ended up writing The Hosken Report: Genital and Sexual Mutilation of Females in 1979. In her book, she reports on the health facts, history, The World Health Organization’s Seminar in Khartoum, The Politics of FGM: a Conspiracy of Silence, Actions for Change, Statistics, Economic Facts, and case histories from several African and Asian Countries as well as the western world. Fran Hosken’s writing and research were extremely influential in the movement to end female genital cutting and continues to be in the modern movement.

Dear Maasi: “How do I tell my husband I haven’t enjoyed sex for 15 years?”

Dear Maasi is a column highlighting everything you want to know about sex and relationships, but were afraid to ask! It’s a partnership between Sahiyo and WeSpeakOut. It’s for all of us who have questions about female genital cutting (FGC) or khatna, and how it impacts our bodies, minds, sexuality and relationships. We welcome you to submit your anonymous questions.

Dear Maasi,

I have been married for 15 years and my husband is a decent, caring man, but we don’t talk about sex and I have not talked about my khatna experience with him. I don’t enjoy sex and am always on edge during it. I feel that I should cater to his needs as a loving wife, but this leaves me feeling empty. How do I start a conversation about my lack of enthusiasm for physical interaction without making him feel like he has done something wrong?

—Bilkis

Dear Bilkis

Thanks for writing in. Here are a few things I’d like to convey upfront:

  • You’re not alone. Women are given the message that it’s their duty to self-sacrifice and to defer to men’s needs. 
  • For many women, khatna has had a negative impact on their sexuality. See February’s column for more info. 
  • Many couples have trouble talking about sex. We don’t get enough sex education to allow us to speak neutrally or frankly about sexuality.
  • Talking about khatna is hard for most of us. Check out September’s column for more info. Consider using that as a guide for talking to your husband about it.
  • Trust your body. Those feelings of emptiness and being on edge deserve your attention. 

Here are some guidelines for initiating difficult conversations about intimacy: 

  • Start with finding a good time to talk when you are undistracted and relaxed.
  • Next, use a “love sandwich”. (Loving statements are the bread, the filler is the “problem”). Here is an example:
    • “I love you so much, and there’s something I want to tell you with the goal of making our bond stronger. I’m feeling nervous to say it but I want to tell you that I’m having difficulties with sex connected to khatna [and the fill in the problem.] None of this is your fault. We’ve been through so much in our relationship, and I’m confident that by sorting through this, we can solve this problem together.”
    • Consider putting it in writing if that is easier. Watch this video. At the 4.5-minute mark, Esther Perel, a psychologist, offers an example.
  • Allow your body to guide you as you move forward. Do you want to expand your sex life? Which sexual experiences (with or without your partner) have you enjoyed or might you like to try? Make a list of these so you can communicate them. 
    • Psychologist Esther Perel encourages us to offer invitations versus complaints. For example: “I really loved it when we [fill in the blank]. Want to do that again?” Or “I think if we [fill in the blank], I’ll feel more relaxed. Would you like to try that?” instead of “I don’t enjoy sex with you.”
    • Use mindfulness to help you pause when something doesn’t feel right and to deepen pleasure.
    • If you need some guidance on how to sexually “start again”, read or listen to the book Come As You Are. Do this together. Consider seeking a couples or sex therapist who is trauma-trained to help you further the conversation and help you brainstorm new approaches to sex.

Bilkis, it can feel vulnerable to open up this conversation, but vulnerability also builds intimacy and connection. Your decent and caring partner might initially feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. He might even question why it took you so long to say something. He might also feel incredible relief that the two of you are talking about something so important. Perhaps he’s wondered how to have this conversation, too. Remember sexual pleasure is natural, normal and our birthright!

—Maasi

About Maasi, aka Farzana Doctor: Farzana is a novelist and psychotherapist in private practice. She’s a founding member of WeSpeakOut and the End FGM/C Canada Network. She loves talking about relationships and sexuality! Find out more about her at http://www.farzanadoctor.com

Disclaimer: While Farzana is full of good advice, this column won’t address everyone’s individual concerns and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical or psychological care.

Dear Maasi addresses questions about the clitoral hood and sexual pleasure

Dear Maasi is a column highlighting everything you want to know about sex and relationships, but were afraid to ask! It’s a partnership between Sahiyo and WeSpeakOut. It’s for all of us who have questions about female genital cutting (FGC) or khatna, and how it impacts our bodies, minds, sexuality and relationships. We welcome you to submit your anonymous questions.

This month we received lots of questions through our anonymous form. Dear Maasi will  answer two interrelated questions for February’s column about the clitoral hood and sexual pleasure:

Dear Maasi,

Can you please send us links to see how actually a circumcision is done? What part is snipped? The hood or half of the clitoris? 

—Anonymous

Dear Anonymous

Khatna, aka female circumcision, aka Type 1 FGM/C, involves cutting the clitoral hood. Other Types involve cutting or doing harm to other parts of the genitalia. Have a look at this diagram

However, there isn’t standardization because 1) each body is different 2) most khatnas are done by amateur cutters 3) khatna often happens under duress (think about how precise a cut would be if the child squirms or resists).

I’ve heard of survivors who have scars on their hood, no hood at all, or a partial hood. Some khatna survivors report that the nub of the clitoris was cut. Learn more about the parts of the clitoris here.

The best way to understand what parts of your genitals were cut is to use a hand mirror to have a  good look. If it’s hard to see, you might ask a trusted medical professional, partner or family member to describe what they see. For example, under bright lights, my gynaecologist was able to detect a thin scar on my hood. But do keep in mind that some survivors have no detectable scars at all.

—Maasi

Dear Maasi,

It’s said that khatna increases the sensuality of the clitoris, and it directly affects the sexual appetite of the female subject in a positive way. How true is it? How does FGC impact pleasure and orgasm?

—Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

I have heard pro-khatna advocates sharing the opinion (or shall I say myth?) that a cut to the clitoral hood improves pleasure and orgasm. 

Some survivors have said that khatna has no impact on their pleasure. I haven’t heard of anyone who thinks khatna improved their sex life, but I wouldn’t argue with them if they felt this way. Psychosexual functioning is very individual and impacted by physical and emotional factors, including trauma.

For many survivors, khatna was a sexual trauma. Sexual trauma can impact a survivor’s ability to trust and to experience sexual comfort and pleasure.

—In a Sahiyo survey conducted in 2017, 35% of respondents reported that FGC had affected their sex life, and of those, 87% felt that it had been impacted negatively. 

—In a 2018 WeSpeakOut study, nearly 33% of respondents said the same. They experienced many different emotions: 

  • Fear, anxiety, shame, depression, low self-esteem, difficulty trusting people 
  • “Low sex drive, inability to feel sexual pleasure, difficulty trusting sexual partners, and over sensitivity in the clitoral area were some of the problems identified by several women.”

The clitoral hood has an important function. It protects the sensitive clitoral tissue from over stimulation and irritation. There are also glands in your clitoral hood that produce a lubricant that helps the hood move smoothly over your clitoris.

Globally, one of the main arguments for FGM/C is to control sexuality. In recent years, those who resist the #endFGM movement have come up with all kinds of arguments about why it is “good” for girls and women. I’ll bet that this “increased pleasure” argument is one such fiction.

—Maasi

About Maasi, aka Farzana Doctor:

Farzana is a novelist and psychotherapist in private practice. She’s a founding member of WeSpeakOut and the End FGM/C Canada Network. She loves talking about relationships and sexuality! Find out more about her at http://www.farzanadoctor.com

Disclaimer:

While Farzana is full of good advice, this column won’t address everyone’s individual concerns and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical or psychological care.