WHAT IS FEMALE GENITAL CUTTING?
Female genital cutting (FGC), or female genital mutilation (FGM), is the practice of removing parts or all of a woman’s external genitalia for various purposes. This could range from cutting the tip of the clitoris to removing the inner and outer labia, and in some communities, stitching the labia nearly closed.
There is no standard age at which the practice is performed on girls or women. Some communities cut girls at birth or in early childhood, and other communities wait for puberty or just before a woman’s wedding. Typically, among Dawoodi Bohras, FGC is performed some time between the ages of 6 to 9 years old.
The exact origins of the practice are not known, but it is widely believed that FGC originated in Eastern Africa, and predates Christianity. Today, various types of FGC are known to be practiced in over 92 countries globally. FGC is a social norm, and different communities give various cultural, traditional, and religious reasons for the continuation of the practice. However, the overarching theme behind the practice is that it preserves the cultural identity of the group.
Various justifications are given for why this preservation is needed, such as to control a woman’s sexuality by reducing her ability to obtain sexual fulfillment, which helps maintain the purity of a woman by keeping her a virgin until marriage, and faithful to her husband once married. A third commonly cited justification for genital cutting by Jews, Christians, Muslims, and other indigenous religions is that genital cutting is a religious requirement. Social pressure by family and friends can also create an environment in which FGC is known as an informal or formal requirement for social acceptance, and/or is a marriageability requirement.
Researcher Gerry Mackie suggests that in some communities FGC may have become a marriageability requirement because they view female genitals as offensive to men, and being infibulated is considered more beautiful. These justifications of aesthetics also relate to the notion that female genitals lack cleanliness and must, therefore, be cut. Some communities also claim it is necessary to help girls become complete women. Some also claim it promotes fertility and/or enhances a woman’s sexuality.
WHO PRACTICES FEMALE GENITAL CUTTING IN INDIA?
Female genital cutting (FGC) in India has been associated with the Dawoodi Bohra community and other smaller Bohra sub-sects, including the Suleimani and Alavi Bohras. However, a 2017 investigation by Sahiyo found that FGC is also being done by some Sunni communities in parts of Kerala in southern India. Sahiyo’s investigation revealed that doctors at a medical clinic in Kozhikode (Calicut) were performing the procedure of sunnath, or circumcision, on both boys and girls. After that investigation, mainstream media publications in Kerala have also written about the practice; a survivor spoke out about her own experience; there was a furore in the state’s Muslim population; and the state’s health ministry issued a statement against the practice. More research into the nature and prevalence rates of FGC in Kerala is required.
WHO ARE THE DAWOODI BOHRAS?
The Dawoodi Bohras are a sub-sect of Ismaili Shia Islam, who trace their roots back to the Fatimid dynasty of Yemen in the 11th century. The Dawoodi Bohras believe that the religious or spiritual leader of the community is the Dai-al-Mutlaq, referred to with the title of Syedna. The post originated in Yemen but moved to Gujarat, India, in the 1500s.
Today, the Dawoodi Bohras are predominantly a Gujarati-speaking community with their own distinct culture and a population estimated to be between one and two million people, globally. It is commonly noted that around half of the community lives in India and Pakistan, while the rest are spread out around the world, including the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and various Arab and African nations. The religious administrative headquarters of the Dawoodi Bohras, as well as the office of the current (53rd) Dai, are in Mumbai, India.
The Dawoodi Bohras differ from other Shia Muslims in certain religious beliefs and practices, but also stand out because of their distinct attire, their food and their reputation as a largely wealthy and well-educated community. In western India, Dawoodi Bohras are known for having a more progressive attitude toward women. Most Dawoodi Bohra women are educated, work in various professional fields, and are also known to run home-based businesses.
But Dawoodi Bohras are the most well-known Muslim community in India who practice khatna or female genital cutting (FGC) – a ritual that many Islamic scholars around the world do not endorse. Moreover, it is reported that FGC is prevalent among Bohra sub-sects, i.e., Suleimani Bohras and Alavi Bohras. It is likely that the practice came down from Yemen, where the Bohras trace their roots, and where FGC is widely practiced in several provinces.
HOW DOES THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION CLASSIFY FGC?
The World Health Organization (WHO) considers FGC to be a violation of human rights, and has classified it into four different types:
- Type I (Clitoridectomy): This includes cutting of the clitoral hood or prepuce, or the partial or complete cutting of the external clitoris.
- Type II (Excision): This includes partial or total removal of the inner labia, which could include removal of the clitoris and a part of the outer labia.
- Type III (Infibulation): This includes cutting away the inner and/or outer labia, which may or may not include the clitoris, and then sewing up the wound to leave a small hole for urinating and menstruating. The stitches are then opened at the time of marriage.
- Type IV (Other): This includes all other harmful practices performed on a girl’s or woman’s genitalia, such as piercing, incising, cauterizing (burning) the genitals or even inserting substances into the vulva to tighten it.
WHY DOES SAHIYO REFER TO IT AS FEMALE GENITAL CUTTING (FGC)?
Officially, the World Health Organization (WHO) has termed all forms of female genital cutting as mutilation, and the term FGM has become familiar among activists and communities around the world. However, a number of activists prefer to avoid the term mutilation and use the more neutral term of cutting instead. This is because many communities that practice FGC do not believe they are mutilating or harming their girls, and are likely to be suspicious of, or even hostile, toward other people who label their tradition as mutilation. The term mutilation comes with the connotation of intending to harm, and as activists engaging in dialogue with communities to abandon the practice, we must use language that does not convey that we believe the community is intending to harm their daughters.
Dawoodi Bohras use khatna, or circumcision, to refer to the removal of the prepuce (or hood) from the genitalia of both boys and girls. There is a sentiment among some in the community, that the form of FGC practiced in the Dawoodi Bohra community is in no way related to FGM, as recognized by WHO or as practiced in Africa.
Sahiyo believes, however, that the term female circumcision does not acknowledge the dangers and the harm caused by the act of cutting the clitoris or its hood. We choose, therefore, to use the terms khatna and female genital cutting (FGC) while referring to the ritual practiced by the Dawoodi Bohras.
Additionally, in 2016, Islamic Relief Canada released a study indicating that specific terminology can lead to retraumatization of survivors. The quotation from the study below demonstrates this aspect:
“The terminology of Female Genital Cutting has been the subject of debate in recent years – mainly around differing approaches amongst those opposing the practice in contrast to those who may condone certain types of FGC. While Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) appears to be the term used most frequently by international agencies, experiences from community-based interventions may indicate that the term ‘mutilation’ can, in some instances, actually add to the traumatisation of an individual. Girls and women who have undergone FGC can feel victimised, stigmatised and offended by the word ‘mutilation’ and its derogatory connotations. In general, it is important that any intervention strategies do not actually add to the trauma already felt by females who have had to undergo the practice, and referring to people as ‘mutilated’ – while correctly identifying the severity of the practice – has the potential of traumatising sufferers even more.”
WHAT TYPE OF FGC IS PRACTICED BY THE DAWOODI BOHRAS?
Dawoodi Bohras practice Type I: In the majority of cases, part of the prepuce or the clitoral hood is cut. In some cases – particularly when the khatna is performed by a midwife – it has been reported that women have had either a part of the clitoris or all of the external clitoris cut.
It is typically performed when a girl is between 6 to 9 years of age, and is a practice carried down from mother to daughter, with usually no involvement from the male members of the family. The ritual was traditionally carried out by traditional midwives, but mothers and grandmothers now also take girls to hospitals or clinics, particularly in bigger cities.
WHERE IS KHATNA PERFORMED?
As Dawoodi Bohras migrate around the globe, so too, has the practice of FGC. Reports have come in through the media and our study show that Dawoodi Bohras practice khatna in the following locations: Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Canada, India, Kenya, Kuwait, Malaysia, New Zealand, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Tanzania, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and the United States.
IS KHATNA DIFFERENT FROM WHAT HAPPENS IN AFRICAN COUNTRIES?
According to the World Health Organization, khatna as practiced by the Dawoodi Bohras falls under the category of Type I, which is a human rights violation. Internationally, the more severe types of FGC tend to draw media attention and public outrage. While most people associate female genital mutilation with Type II and Type III, as practiced in some African communities, they are often unaware that FGC is common in various Asian countries in the form of Type I and Type II. In Asia, it is almost always connected to religion. In many African countries, where the practice is believed to have originated, it is followed by Muslims and Christians, as well as people from other religions.
Mistakenly, many pro-khatna Bohras, and other Asian communities believe that the cutting they practice is categorically different from the traditions of African communities, hinting at underlying ethnocentrism and racism. However, all forms of FGC are a form of social norm, and regardless of what form of FGC is performed, they are all being done on girls who are too young to give consent or even understand what is happening to them.
HOW IS KHATNA DIFFERENT FROM MALE CIRCUMCISION?
Some Dawoodi Bohras perceive the cutting of the clitoral hood to be the female equivalent of removal of the male foreskin. Among Dawoodi Bohras, both are performed at an age when children are not old enough to give consent for it – approximately ages 6 to 9 for girls and infancy for boys. The underlying ideology behind the two practices also differs for the Bohras. Until 2016, the Dawoodi Bohra religious leadership did not publicly explain why khatna is mandatory for girls in the community. In 2016, the religious clergy claimed that FGC is done for hygiene purposes. There are no medical studies substantiating this claim. Also most community members, on the contrary, believe that the ritual is meant to moderate a woman’s sexual urges and prevent her from having premarital or extra-marital affairs.
Justifications for male circumcision, on the other hand, are rarely linked to a man’s sexual desire or pleasure. Any surgical altering of genitals may result in injury or death. FGC can significantly damage the sex organs, inhibit pleasure, and potentially cause severe pain and complications for women’s sexual and reproductive health. See more here.
FGC is often a patriarchal cultural tradition carried out with the intent of subjugating women and controlling their bodies. The practice serves to oppress women, reinforcing the perpetuation of their marginalization and inferior status in society. For more information, please refer to Equality Now’s FGM Fact Sheet.
Male circumcision is performed for reasons of hygiene as well, according to Dawoodi Bohras and others. There is an intense debate on whether there are medical benefits necessitating the need for male circumcision among those living in developed countries, such as the United States, (see more here) and among those living in developing countries (see here). There is a growing opposition to male circumcision, as well (see here).
There are no known health benefits for any form of female genital cutting.
IS KHATNA SAFE WHEN IT IS DONE IN A HOSPITAL SETTING?
(Please refer to Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation)
Trained health professionals who perform female genital cutting are violating girls’ and women’s right to life, right to physical integrity, and right to health. They are also violating the fundamental medical ethic to do no harm. Yet, medical professionals have performed and continue to perform female genital cutting (UNICEF, 2005). Studies have found that in some countries one-third or more of women had their daughter subjected to the practice by a trained health professional (Satti et al., 2006). Evidence also shows that trend is increasing in a number of countries (Yoder et al., 2004).
A range of factors can motivate medical professionals to perform female genital cutting, including prospects of economic gain, pressure and a sense of duty to serve community requests (Berggren et al., 2004; Christoffersen-Deb, 2005). In countries where groups that practice female genital cutting have emigrated, some medical personnel misuse the principles of human rights and perform FGC in the name of upholding what they perceive is the patient’s culture and the right of the patient to choose medical procedures, even in cases where the patient did not request it (Vangen et al., 2004; Thierfelder et al., 2005; Johansen, 2006a)
Some medical professionals, nongovernmental organizations, government officials and others consider medicalization as a harm-reduction strategy and support the notion that when the procedure is performed by a trained health professional, some of the immediate risks may be reduced (Shell-Duncan, 2001; Christoffersen-Deb, 2005). However, even when carried out by trained professionals, the procedure is not necessarily less severe, or conditions sanitary. Moreover, there is no evidence that medicalization reduces the documented obstetric or other long-term complications associated with female genital cutting. Some have argued that medicalization is a useful or necessary first step towards total abandonment, but there is no documented evidence to support this claim.
There are serious risks associated with medicalization of female genital cutting. Its performance by medical personnel may wrongly legitimize the practice as medically sound or beneficial for girls and women’s health. It can also further institutionalize the procedure as medical personnel often hold power, authority, and respect in society (Budiharsana, 2004). Medical licensing authorities and professional associations have joined the United Nations organizations in condemning actions to medicalize female genital cutting. The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) passed a resolution in 1994 at its General Assembly opposing the performance of female genital mutilation by obstetricians and gynaecologists, including a recommendation to “oppose any attempt to medicalize the procedure or to allow its performance, under any circumstances, in health establishments or by health professionals” (International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics). In 2016, the World Health Organization released WHO Guidelines on the Management of Health Complications from Female Genital Mutilation. They recommended that no form of medicalized FGC be accepted because it violates medical ethics since (i) FGC is a harmful practice; (ii) medicalization perpetuates FGC; and (iii) the risks of the procedure outweigh any perceived benefit.
DOES KHATNA AMONG BOHRAS DIFFER FROM COUNTRY TO COUNTRY IN TERMS OF THE METHODS USED AND THE SCALE AT WHICH IT IS PRACTICED?
Right now it is hard to say how different the practice is from country to country. The practice has indeed migrated as groups of Dawoodi Bohra move to other countries outside of India. In general, what is prescribed for khatna within the community is that part of the clitoral hood is removed. However, that might not necessarily always happen, and we have heard from Dawoodi Bohras who have noted that more than that was removed.
One difference regarding how the practice might be performed in some countries versus others is that in India, the practice is more so performed by midwives/cutters, while in other countries, it may be performed in a hospital/medical setting.
WHAT ARE THE HEALTH CONSEQUENCES OF FGC (Type I, in particular)?
The World Health Organization reports that an estimated 90% of cases include Types I or II and cases where genitals are “nicked” but no flesh removed (Type IV), and about 10% are Type III (WHO 2013). Read about possible health risks of different types of FGC here.
Besides the possible physical consequences of Type I FGC, it is vital to note that the practice can have a negative impact on mental health. The ritual of khatna typically involves taking a child to a doctor or a midwife under a different pretext, making her partially undress and inflicting pain in a sensitive part of the body with little or no explanation. Many women remember resisting the blade in fear.
It is an act that induces trauma for many children and even if the trauma is forgotten by the conscious mind soon after. It can surface later, at the time of marriage and one’s first sexual experiences, in the form of fear of sexual intimacy.
WHAT DOES ISLAM SAY ABOUT FGC?
Not all Islamic groups practice FGC. This includes countries where there is sharia law like Saudi Arabia. Many non-Muslims also practice FGC such as Christians and Animists. In fact, FGC predates Islam as it existed during the time of Prophet Ibrahim which was before Islam.
The Quran does not talk about male or female cutting, but male cutting or circumcision is considered mandatory in Islam. It is seen as one of the five “sunnah-al-fitrah” (obligatory customs of nature) that Prophet Mohammed preached including circumcision, cutting the nails, trimming the mustache, plucking pubic hair and plucking armpit hair. Some interpret sunnah to mean it is either religiously recommended or something that was practiced in the time of the prophet.
FGC, on the other hand, is not considered obligatory but, according to a section of scholars, is prescribed. There is a reference to female circumcision in one of the hadiths (books explaining prophetic traditions), specifically the hadith of Abu Dawood. It describes an incident when the Prophet came across a woman performing the act of female circumcision in Medina. The Prophet is said to have told her “not to cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband.” However, according to Asghar Ali Engineer, the late reformist Dawoodi Bohra scholar, the hadith that cites this is “considered weak by many Muslims.” Sa’ad, who was responsible for this hadith was hanged, and 200 of his hadiths have been thrown out as “interpolation” or fabrication.
Many fatwas have been issued by religious leaders against FGC in countries such as Egypt, Mauritania and Senegal. In Islam the Prophet’s commandment states, “Accept no harm and do no harm to another.” Islam also teaches that if the harm (physical or mental harm) of anything outweighs the benefits, we should leave it alone.
Other Islamic scholars around the world who prescribe FGC give multiple reasons for endorsing it. These include hygiene (preventing secretions of the inner labia from accumulating and developing a rancid odour that could lead to infections), reducing excessive sexual desire, reducing the excessive sensitivity of the clitoris so that it does not get aroused to a size that is inconvenient to the husband, and preventing spasms of the clitoris. A lot of religious myths have been formed to justify FGC but none of them, including the reasons listed above, have been proven to be true. In fact, there is no evidence to suggest that the Prophet’s daughter ever underwent FGC.
The Dawoodi Bohras give particular prominence to a 10th century text of jurisprudence called Daim-al Islam, written by Qazi Noman. This text mentions khatna for males and females as a sunnat (recommendation) for purposes of taharat, or cleanliness, hygiene and purity. This is believed to include not just physical purity but also spiritual.
However, as they pass down the ritual of khatna through oral tradition, Bohras cite certain other reasons for the practice more frequently than the reason of hygiene. One reason often cited for practicing khatna is that it moderates a woman’s sexual urges – that in Islam, women must not be sexually aggressive and khatna is a way to curb the aggression. A few claim the opposite – that khatna is done to enhance sexual pleasure. In 2010, when Sahiyo co-founder Mariya Taher was a Master of Social Work student at San Francisco State University, she conducted an academic study titled, “Understanding the Continuation of FGC in the United States.” One woman interviewed in the study stated that according to religious teachings she had gained while attending Aljamea-tus-Saifiyah, when both a man and woman are circumcised, a certain kind of essential knowledge or ilm is passed between the married couple during the act of sex.
WHAT ARE THE LAWS ON FGC AROUND THE WORLD AND IN INDIA?
FGC is illegal in several countries around the world. In the United States, it is currently illegal in 28 states. India does not have a specific law against female genital cutting, but the Supreme Court of India is currently hearing a set of petitions by various individuals and groups on the issue. While some petitioners are seeking a legal ban on the practice of FGC in India, a counter-petition by the Dawoodi Bohra Women’s Association for Religious Freedom has defended the ritual of female circumcision on the grounds of religious freedom. In September 2018, the Supreme Court referred the case to a five-judge Constitution bench, which will scrutinise the practice of FGC from the lens of religious freedom.
In recent years, there has been a considerable amount of global discussion on the effectiveness of legislation banning FGC in different countries. In 2013, a paper titled, “Legislating Change? Responses to Criminalising Female Genital Cutting in Senegal,” published in the Law and Society Review found that in rural Senegal, knowledge of FGC being criminalized by legislation does not motivate abandonment of the practice itself – many continue to cut their girls in secret. However, legislation can be a tool to protect women and girls from experiencing FGC, as well as contribute to the elimination of this practice when accompanied by other community programs focusing on education and health.
Effective legislation must also integrate the need for social change. The UNICEF-UNFPA publication, “How To Transform a Social Norm” (2018) also notes that legislation must acknowledge the deeply embedded cultural significance of the practice, and work to integrate social change within FGC practicing communities.
A legal framework that clearly states that harmful practices are unacceptable is undeniably an important necessary measure for contributing to the end of these practices. However, when laws that ban the practice are introduced in contexts where people are still expected by their families and communities to engage in the practice and fear social punishment if they do not, the practice will continue and may be driven underground. The challenge, therefore, is to develop, introduce, and implement legislation in ways that contribute to a social change process that ultimately results in the decision by communities to abandon the practice. When it is accompanied by human rights education programs and community dialogue to foster a consensus on the abandonment of the practice, a legislative approach can be an important instrument for promoting the abandonment of FGM/C. ~ UNICEF, 2010
Our organization believes that criminalizing FGC cannot alone get communities to put a stop to the practice, particularly in a communally polarized world struggling against Islamophobia. We believe we must first begin with education and community-based outreach programs, encourage open dialogue between community members and religious authorities, pull the topic out of the shadows of taboo – and only when there is enough steam within the community – to demand an end to the practice will any kind of law become relevant.
WHO ARE THE VOICES AGAINST KHATNA IN THE DAWOODI BOHRA COMMUNITY?
Over the past few decades, there have been disparate attempts by Dawoodi Bohra women around the world to speak out against female genital cutting and to call for an end to this practice. Sahiyo and StoryCenter’s joint endeavor, Voices to End FGM/C, has had several Bohra participants, among others, encourage communities to end cutting through short digital stories detailing their experiences.
All for “Izzat” The Practice of Female Circumcision among Dawoodi Bohra Muslims in India, by Rehana Ghadially, was a small case study done in 1994. Over the last few years, other voices have called for action through articles in magazines, other publications, and blogs by survivors of khatna and their supporters. There has also been an online petition appealing to the late Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin to bring an end to this practice.
Despite women advocating to abolish the practice of khatna, it still continues. In a survey conducted by Sahiyo in 2015, of the 385 women participants surveyed from the Dawoodi Bohra community, 80% had been cut. When survey participants were asked if they would continue the practice, the majority of survey participants were NOT okay with the practice of khatna for women continuing for future generations.
WHAT ARE THE REASONS THAT KEEP MORE WOMEN FROM SPEAKING UP AGAINST IT?
Female genital cutting is a complicated custom, and there are many factors that play into the continuation of the practice. Some women in the community may believe that the form of female circumcision they practice is not in any way related to FGM as recognized by WHO, or as practiced in many African countries.
Khatna is practiced discreetly by women in the community, and speaking about it in public – particularly expressing dissent against the practice– is widely considered a taboo that could result in communal ostracism. People fear getting loved ones in trouble by reporting FGC to authorities. The people who perform the FGC might be relatives or friends. The parents of the child who had it done might be sent away if FGC is criminalized in their country. These are legitimate concerns for why some people do not speak up against it. People fear the community may stigmatize their families (parents, children, etc.) if they speak out against it.
A legal case in Australia which included a religious leader, a midwife and a local family from the Dawoodi Bohra community were arrested on charges of assisting in FGC. The religious leader informed his community to lie about FGC occuring. A similar situation has occurred in the United States after a doctor from the Bohra community in Michigan was charged with performing FGC on minor girls in the United States.
Some people who have undergone FGC do not want to be viewed as a victim. They, themselves, might not see themselves as such. To them, the word victim might have a negative connotation, and they do not want to be viewed in that light within the community or outside of the community. Read Sayiho’s Needs Assessment document to understand more reasons why women are reluctant to speak out against FGC.
WHY SHOULD KHATNA END?
Psychological scars: The type of female genital cutting Dawoodi Bohras practice does not always have negative health consequences (although it does affect some women adversely). But it can leave lasting psychological scars in childhood that are not easy to erase later. The ritual of khatna typically involves taking a child to a doctor or a midwife under a different pretext, making her partially undress, and inflicting pain in a sensitive part of the body with little or no explanation. Many cut women remember resisting the blade in fear.
It is an act that induces trauma for many children, even if the trauma is forgotten by the conscious mind soon after. It can surface later, at the time of marriage and one’s first sexual experiences, or in the form of fear of sexual intimacy.
Done without consent: Khatna is also objectionable because it is performed on girls at the age of 6 or 7, when they are too young to give informed consent for it, or even understand what is happening to them. Parents do make various decisions for their children throughout the time that they are minors and dependents, but this particular decision involves cutting off a part of another individual’s body – a part that is central to the sexual life of an adult woman.
A child of 7 has little or no knowledge of sexual or reproductive anatomy. Even if the child is given some explanation for the cutting (a religious explanation or one to do with health), she is definitely too young to understand the implications of what it really means. Parents cannot assume the right to alter their daughter’s anatomy at an age when the child has no real knowledge of the clitoris and its role in her future life.
Inherently patriarchal: At the heart of it, FGC is a practice born out of patriarchy – the social structure that privileges men over women. Males are not circumcised to control their sexuality, but in the case of women, the purpose of khatna is to rein in their sexual energy to ensure they do not deviate from the prescribed sexual mores for women of the community.
Fear of female sexuality: The practice is rooted in the belief that women’s bodies and their sexuality are a dangerous, negative influence on society. If they are not controlled, traditional gendered roles in patriarchal family structures would not hold. FGC, then, is a symbol of misogyny and systemic gender inequality.
Women’s rights over their bodies: FGC, performed on children without their informed consent, basically denies girls and women their fundamental right over their own bodies. A girl cut as a child will grow up to be a woman who’s sexual life will be influenced by an event that was not in her control. She will be forever stuck with an altered anatomy that was not her choice.
COULD IDENTIFYING AS A CIRCUMCISED BOHRA ON SOCIAL MEDIA OR IN THE MEDIA POTENTIALLY LEAD TO LEGAL RAMIFICATIONS FOR ONE’S FAMILY, PARTICULARLY SINCE THIS IS AN ISSUE THE UNITED STATES SUDDENLY DECIDED TO FOCUS ON?
1) In November 2018, a federal court in Michigan found that the federal FGM/C law (18 US Code s.116), which was passed in 1996, was unconstitutional because Congress did not have the power under the Constitution to pass such a criminal bill; rather, outlawing this “heinous act” was the purview of state criminal law. This means that FGM/C has never been a federal crime for the purposes of that 1996 law. Therefore, if someone were to come forward now and claim they were the victim/survivor of FGM/C between 1996-2018, they would have no civil or criminal recourse or remedy against the cutter or other parties, except under existing state law at the time of the cutting.
2) The Department of Justice still uses part of this 1996 FGM/C law for asylum cases, but it cannot be used to charge someone with the federal crime of FGM/C. If the person was transported from U.S. soil for the purpose of being cut and was cut abroad on or after November 2013, then the vacation cutting provision applies. Therefore, although the federal law was found unconstitutional in part, this vacation cutting provision was NOT challenged and still holds true.
3) Congress currently has a revised FGM/C law, which passed the House and is now before the U.S. Senate as of 9/22/2020. If it passes in the Senate, then it will go to the President for his signature or a veto within 10 days. Congress has taken suggestions from the November 2018 decision and from a Solicitor General memo on how to revise the 1996 bill, so that it withstands Constitutional scrutiny. Unlike the 1996 law, Congress is claiming the power to criminalize FGM/C under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. If signed, then there is usually an effective date in the law, or it is effective once it is published by the Office of the Federal Register.
4) With the passage of the Massachusetts FGM/C criminal law (H4606), 39 states have passed their own FGM/C criminal bills, which means there are 11 states where a girl or woman would not be protected by FGM/C, unless there is another state law that could protect them, for example, such as assault and battery laws.
*5) There is also the issue of statute of limitations. How long after the cutting can a criminal or civil case be brought under federal or state law? Is the statute of limitation “tolled” (put on hold or frozen) until the 18th birthday and then starts running? If yes, how long after the 18th birthday does the person or prosecutors have?
* 6) The federal law applied/applies to both children and adults within its jurisdiction. The person who underwent FGM/C, or someone legally allowed to act on their behalf, would have to bring the charge or bring it to the attention of authorities who would bring the charge. That legal person could be a parent, guardian or court-appointed advocate.
*Note: There is a federal bill called “Empower Our Girls Act,” which was introduced by U.S. Representative Perry, which would add FGM/C to seven Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) grant programs, allowing certain grants to be used for the purpose of assisting victims of FGM/C.
I AM A STUDENT AND I AM DOING A PRESENTATION/DISSERTATION/THESIS ON THE TOPIC OF FGC. CAN I CONNECT WITH SAHIYO FOR MORE INFORMATION, OR CAN YOU CONNECT ME WITH SURVIVORS WHOM I CAN INTERVIEW FOR MY PROJECT?
If you are a student, please first take the time to go through the Sahiyo website. Important information can be found on these pages:
Sahiyo FAQ – answers basic questions about FGC in the Bohra community
Sahiyo’s History – Information about Sahiyo’s work and activities
Sahiyo Resources – Sahiyo has put together a few resources including 1) Study on FGC in Bohra community; 2) Media Toolkit that discusses the history of Bohra community and how to work with survivors sensitively; 3) Activists’ Needs Assessment Report on Barrier Faced in Advocating against FGC.
Stories and Narratives – If you are looking for personal testimonies, please look at the stories we have collected from women who have undergone FGC. You may take quotes from these articles provided you cite Sahiyo as your source.
More News on FGC – Links to news articles and research papers on FGC can be found here. There is a wealth of information, so please do look up these sources first.
As an NGO, we are always happy to connect with students and believe it is important to educate everyone on the topic. Please note though that while we would like to support individual student projects with their research, our capacity is limited, and it is often difficult for us to connect with all students requesting support.
If you need further information, you can also write to email@example.com. We do ask that you give us at least 3 weeks notice for a research/class presentation deadline.
If you are still interested in connecting further with women who have experienced FGC, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with a description of your project and request. We cannot guarantee support, but we will consider sharing it on our social media channels so people may follow up with you directly.
We highly recommend researchers to consider volunteering for a minimum three months with Sahiyo to learn more about our approach and work on FGC. We also strongly encourage students who do research to submit blog posts to Sahiyo regarding their reflections and experience pursuing the project.
To volunteer with Sahiyo, please fill out the Volunteer Application:
HOW CAN I GET INVOLVED WITH SAHIYO?
There’s a wide variety of routes you can take to connect with Sahiyo.
- Stay informed! Keep posted on all our latest opportunities by subscribing to our newsletter.
- Connect and share! You can do this by following us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn or YouTube. Please share posts with your communities and like, comment, and engage. A big part of how Sahiyo connects with global supporters is through social media, so please don’t hesitate to spread our content with your networks and community.
- Tell your story! If you are a survivor, or have a personal story to share related to FGM/C, you can share your story to inspire others to come forward as well. You can write a blog post or create a digital story at one of our regular storytelling retreats. Reach out to write a blog any time to email@example.com. You can also write to us to express your interest in being part of a workshop, and we’ll put you on the waitlist, and reach out with an application when the next workshop is approaching.
- Donate! Our programs (such as activist retreats, storytelling workshops, Thaal Pe Charcha and more) are sustained by the generosity of donors. Helps us ensure the conversation around FGC continues and survivors receive support.
- Intern with us! We have a variety of internships involving social media and communications/events.
- Volunteer with us! Our international team of volunteers bring a wealth of experience, identities and perspectives to our work. Apply to be a part of our community.
Sign our petition! Add your name to the collective of voices rising up to end female genital cutting.