Khatna and the law, Part 1: Legislative Framework on Female Genital Cutting in Egypt

By Bhavya Singh

Since the recognition of the presence of Female Genital Cutting (FGC) in parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, efforts have been made to eliminate it in these areas. At the international level, elimination of Female Genital Mutilation is a part of Sustainable Development Goal number five, which seeks to achieve gender equality. Organisations like WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA have worked for greater involvement of the international community to advocate against FGC. These efforts include creation or reformation of laws at the national level to counteract the issue. Legislation at the national level, however can be a complex issue as this practice is very deeply entrenched in the social fabric of the communities in which it occurs. Countries which have criminalised FGC continue to face problems, as punishment alone is not enough of a deterrent in a community where FGC is connected to tradition. In other countries, the implementation of the law has not been successful and has not seen prosecutions occuring. Communities themselves have resisted the effort to ban the practice, often arguing with officials who arrest those involved with carrying FGC out.

According to the UN, FGC has reduced by 24% since 2001, however, at the same time if FGM continues at the same pace it currently occurs, around 68 million girls around the world will be affected by it by 2030. Thus legislative efforts have not been effective deterrents in most countries.

To further understand the legislative framework regarding the issue, this blog series will explore the laws in place in countries affected by FGC in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

In Africa, FGC is criminalised in 18 of the 28 countries it is reportedly practiced in. Criminalisation is only the first step in ending the problem. This fact is illustrated by the situation in Egypt where a law prohibiting FGC has been in place since 2008, but only two cases regarding FGC related deaths have been reported in the years following. According to 28 Too Many the law in Egypt is mentioned in Article 242-bis and Article 242-bis(A) of Law No. 58 of 1937 promulgating the Penal Code. The penalties for violation of the law include:

  • Article 242-bis – the performance of FGC is punishable with imprisonment for between five and seven years.
  • Article 242-bis – where the performance of FGC results in permanent disability or death, the punishment is increased to ‘aggravated’ imprisonment for between three and fifteen years.
  • Article 242-bis(A) – anyone who requests FGC is punishable with imprisonment from one to three years if the mutilation is carried out.

In 2016, an amendment upgraded the performance of FGC from misdemeanour to felony. Where a charge of misdemeanour earlier meant a penalty ranging from three months to five years, it now ranges from five to seven years. The provisions of the previous law had gaping holes, including exempting genital injuries with sufficient medical justification. As a result, FGC moved from hidden corners into medical hands. According to 28 Too Many, 78.4% of incidences of FGC are done my health professionals. The widely covered death of Soheir al-Batea brought this issue to light. A thirteen-year-old, she died at the hands of Dr. Raslan Fadl who performed the procedure. What is surprising here is the fact that despite existence of the law against FGC since 2008, Dr. Fadl is the only health professional to have been implicated for the crime. (See ‘A Small Nick or Cut, they say…’ by Priya Goswami)

This, more than anything, makes it clear that the existence of law is not enough to end FGC The need to conform to societal norms is so strong that people are ready to break the law for its sake. Also, in many communities, honour and pride are strongly associated with notions of women’s purity. Female circumcision, which it is often also referred to, is falsely propagated as a marker of purity, which makes FGC difficult to erase, as people value honour over a women’s safety, comfort or hygiene. Another reason why change is challenging is because the harbingers of change are often considered ‘outsiders’ instead of part of the community. The attempt at reform by these ‘outsiders’ is often viewed as propaganda against the community rather than upliftment of the community and concern for its community’s wellbeing.

What will help, is the inversion of societal notions. If FGC is seen as honourable, people should be made to see the reasons why it is quite the opposite, so it can be dissociated from honour. If FGC is seen to be a requirement for marriage, it needs to be seen as a deterrent instead. If FGC is seen as religiously sanctioned, people need to be made aware how it is not. The long-term solution involves changing the mindset such that FGC is recognised as harmful.. As seen in this blog’s case scenario, penalising an act that much of a  society does not think a criminal offense in itself will not lead to the desired solution.

About Bhavya Singh: Bhavya Singh

Bhavya is 19 year old law student who has a deep interest in human rights and political theory. She is the happiest when extremely busy and wants to use her law degree to help as many people as she can. Always willing to talk about fashion and sitcoms, her other two passions, and she is hungry for new experiences and challenges to be thrown at her.

 

‘Call it by the Name’: A researcher’s dilemma on the FGM-FGC terminology debate

by Debangana Chatterjee

Two years back when I ventured into trying to understand a culturally specific embodied practice pertaining to procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia ‘for non-medical reasons’ as a researcher, the biggest challenge for me was to ‘call it by the name’.

Disagreements regarding the usage of the term ‘mutilation’ in Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), bearing a negative connotation, have surged. International organisations and agencies commonly term it FGM. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) justifies usage of the term on the basis of its previous reference in 1997 and 2008 by the interagency statements. WHO also acknowledges ‘the importance of using non-judgemental terminology with practising communities’ and some of United Nations agencies prefer adding the word ‘cutting’. Ultimately, both terms underline the violation of women and girls’ rights.

‘Mutilation’ refers to impairing a vital body part by cutting it off with an explicit intent to harm. In this context, a few other terms used to connote FGM require closer attention. Female circumcision and excision are often used identically with FGM, although these do not fully carry the information regarding the practice. Out of the four types of procedures entailing FGM as specified by WHO, female circumcision appears akin to type I and even occasionally type II FGM and appears not as physically severe as the Type III category. Yet, existing research suggests that treating female circumcision as replacements for FGM fails to take the practice into account in its entirety. Using ‘female genital surgeries’ is contested as well, as it appears to validate medicalisation of FGM or in other words implies that FGM is a medical surgery like other standard surgeries.

The term FGM received significant prominence in the 1990s. Fran Hosken coined the term in 1993 to draw international attention to the ill-effects associated with the practice as well as to distinguish it from the widely prevailing male circumcision practices. For Ellen Gruenbaum the term ‘…implies intentional harm and is tantamount to an accusation of evil intent’ and thus, entails greater chances of hurting sentiments. There are scholars like Stanlie M. James and Claire C. Robertson who prefer Female Genital Cutting (FGC) instead of FGM. They consider ‘circumcision’ insufficient as it makes a ‘false analogy’ to male circumcision. At the same time, they disagree with the term FGM as it subsumes that all types of the procedure are an act of ‘mutilation’. Anika Rahman and Nahid Toubia also choose the understanding of FGC and circumcision as to not force women to dwell on their body as mutilated. These scholars understand the sense of trauma that ‘mutilation’ might connote for some women.

In fact, the constant reference of FGM in the existing international human rights (IHR) discourse mostly remains unaware of other forms of bodily mutilation of women. ‘Mutilation’, in this sense, can mean both bodily modifications attempted through cosmetic surgeries and public sexual violence which remains under the sovereign jurisdiction of the states concerned. Needless to say, mutilation of raped bodies is one of the most common occurrences of sexual violence. When FGM as a cultural practice is emphasised over other forms of ‘mutilation’, it indicates the cultural biases of IHR discourse. It is not to dilute the abhorrence that this practice deserves, but to show how little a space it leaves for consciousness building and community learning. For both the activists and researchers alike, extreme caution is required  to not alienate people and to sustain the dialogic engagement with them.

Also, with ‘mutilation’, a popular imagery of infibulation (narrowing of the vaginal orifice)  is attached. It comes more with its representation in popular culture as is the case with the film Desert Flower. Notwithstanding the reality of the incidence shown in the movie, in most of the cases, the type I and II procedures are conducted instead of type III (infibulation). Clubbing all the procedures under the single rubric either exaggerates type I and II FGM or dilutes the gravity of Type III and some forms of Type IV (Type IV includes miscellaneous procedures like piercing, pricking, incising or stretching of the clitoris, burning or scraping of vaginal tissues. Whereas some of the type IV procedures are of greater concern, others may not necessarily appear as severe).

In the light of these debates over terminologies, how does a researcher resolve her dilemma?

My study aims to locate the practices of FGM/C exclusive to the Bohra Muslim community in India in the frame of international politics. Especially keeping in mind my position as a scholar who is outside the purview of the culture, I stand on the edge of being either called a cultural relativist/apologist (a person who believes that people’s cultural traditions can only be judged by the standards of their own culture and thus, cultural practices are to be judged relative to the understanding of its practitioners) or prejudiced against cultural particularities. My study aims to juxtapose international discourses surrounding the practice vis-a-vis its occurrences in India. Hence, while writing my thesis, I shall be using FGM interchangeably with FGM/C to reflect the larger WHO definition and its usage in the international circle. As no term seems perfect in defining the practice, academically FGM/C looks commonly acceptable reflecting the international outlook towards it. Needless to say, the term FGM/C also has received substantial backlash from the communities and Bohras are no exception to it. An objective and unbiased study of the practice seeks the right approach more than an elusive perfection in terminology. Thus, during my interactions with members of the community, while analysing the local Indian discourse, khatna as a term will be given preference respecting the cultural uniqueness that the term bears.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMore about Debangana

Debangana is a doctoral scholar at the Centre for International Politics Organisation and  Disarmament (CIPOD), Jawaharlal Nehru University. Through her research, she is trying to locate the existing Indian discourse surrounding the practices of FGM/C and Hijab into the frame of international politics. If you would like to connect with Debangana, you can reach her at debangana.1992@gmail.com.

A conversation with change makers: women who chose to speak up about Khatna

By Priya Ahluwalia

Priya is a 22-year-old clinical psychology student at Tata Institute of Social Sciences – Mumbai. She is passionate about mental health, photography and writing. She is currently conducting a research on the individual experience of Khatna and its effects. To read Priya’s first blog in this series, visit ‘How I found out Khatna exists and why I choose to speak out’.

The first time I heard the statement,“Well it could have been you! It could have been anyone! But it happened to me,” by a woman who had gone through khatna, I felt its weight immensely on me.

I do not yet have the answers for why this statement affected me so intensely, but it has strengthened my resolve to understand and generate more awareness about Khatna, because it has affected women for so long and has the capacity to affect many more.

The first step in my research journey is to talk to women who have been directly affected by Khatna. While deciding upon the questions to ask my participants, my number one concern was to not sound insensitive or biased when asking them about Khatna. More importantly, I wondered how to ask questions about something this personal without sounding intrusive. The sensitivity of the questions depends on the context in which you ask the question rather than how you frame it, whereas the intrusiveness of it depends on the reactions from the women.

It was interesting for me to observe that none of the women found the questions to be intrusive or uncomfortable, rather there was a normalized, patterned response given from them, as if these were routine questions. My early hypothesis was that women would feel overwhelmed while responding to these questions, but that is not what I found. There are two possible reasons for this: one, they have been asked these questions before and thus have already reflected on the questions and know the answers for themselves; two, by choosing to speak about Khatna, they have already begun their healing process and by normalizing speaking about the incident they perhaps have taken back a sense of control that they had lost when they underwent it. Future interactions with more women will allow me to formulate a definite conclusion.

It was fascinating to observe that although each woman had an individual experience of Khatna, their stories were eerily similar and the trajectory of growing up and figuring out the significance of it was uncannily alike. A lot of the women I interviewed had repressed their memory of the day of their Khatna, and they grew up without any conscious knowledge of what had happened or what it meant, only to discover its significance much later in life. However, perhaps their discovery of Khatna later in life comes due to the ripple effect created by one woman speaking out. The women I have spoken with have talked about how hearing how other women were speaking about their experiences helped them to remember their own experience of Khatna.  

While interviewing women, some common traits I found among the respondents were curiosity, a fierce need for answers and an extraordinary amount of courage. All the women I interviewed had an aura of strength around them which was empowering. It crushed the fear and hesitancy I had in asking the questions, and it empowered me to not only raise more questions about Khatna. Through reflection, I found that change happens through empowering conversations.

While doing this research, always at the back of my mind, has been the questions of “Who are the changemakers?”  

I recognized that change-makers are those who have the courage to question the law of the land, who show resilience in the face of daunting challenges and who empower others to fuel the fire of change.

These women have empowered me to continue the change, and I request you to join me in further promoting this change. If we do not speak out, then who will?  

To participate in Priya’s research, contact her on priya.tiss.2018@gmail.com

Why the new survey on Khafz (Female Genital Cutting) among Bohras is biased and unscientific

By Mariya Taher, MSW, MFA

Last week, many Dawoodi Bohras around the world received the link to an online “research” survey with questions about Khatna/Khafz practiced in the community. Khafz refers to cutting a portion of a girl’s clitoral hood – a type of Female Genital Cutting – and this new online survey by Dr. Tasneem Saify, Dr. Munira Radhanpurwala T and Dr. Rakhee K claims that it aims to get feedback from Dawoodi Bohra women and men about the practice. (Link to survey is here).

As someone who has gone through the process of designing multiple research studies, I can confidently say that this latest survey on Khatna/Khafz in the Bohra community is neither a safe nor an unbiased tool for conducting proper research on female genital cutting. Other academic researchers who reviewed the Khafz survey have also pointed this out. For example, Usha Tummala-Narra, Ph.D., an associate Professor in the Department of Counseling, Developmental and Educational Psychology at Boston College, states:

The questions are strangely worded, and implicitly and explicitly suggest that the practice is not mutilation or traumatic. There are also no questions related to girls’ or women’s experiences of the practice. We can’t really know much about the definition of khatna/khafz without asking about the experience and its effects over time.”

While Karen A. McDonnell, an Associate Professor and Vice-Chair in the Department of Prevention and Community Health at Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University, states:

“Overall this survey presents itself as a feedback mechanism from Dawoodi Bohras about female circumcision. Taking the perspective of someone trained in objective survey development in psychology and public health, the survey actually reads in its entirety, not as a feedback, but rather as a tool for marketing a perspective. As the survey proceeds, the tenor of the questions increase in a lack of objectivity and a central cause/message is quite clear and the respondent is made to feel manipulated.” 

While all research has its limitations, the design of this questionnaire suggests that it clearly was NOT created and sent out into the world to collect empirical unbiased research on the practice FGC/Khatna/Khafz. Instead, the bias and manner of wording of this survey tool express that the authors (Dr. Tasneem Saify, Dr. Munira Radhanpurwala T & Dr. Rakhee K) are seeking responses that will justify their motives to prove that Female Genital Cutting (FGC) does not harm girls.

Which makes me wonder, was this research tool (the survey) even vetted before the study’s implementation?

In 2008, because of my increasing passion to end violence against women, I choose to craft and carry out research for my Master of Social Work thesis on “Understanding the Continuation of Female Genital Cutting Amongst the Dawoodi Bohras in the United States.” The issue had been in the recesses of my mind for years and I wanted to learn how a practice that involves cutting the sexual organs of a young girl could ever have been deemed a religious or cultural practice. I wanted to understand how the issue of Female Genital Cutting (FGC) could continue generation after generation without question, because if I could understand this reasoning, then I could better understand why FGC had been done to me at the age of seven.

As a graduate student, my thesis advisors walked me through every step of the research process, from consulting references and existing studies, to contacting other academics and experts who had studied FGC. In the end, I carried out an exploratory study and crafted questions that could be used to conduct ethnographic interviews. Ethnographic interviewing is a type of qualitative research that combines immersive observation and directed one-on-one interviews. In order to draft the questions, I consulted questions used in previous studies by other researchers. My thesis advisors reviewed the questions, and the San Francisco State University’s Institutional Review Board examined my question to ensure there was no hidden bias in the wording of my questions that could lead participants to answer one way or the other.

Having been through the process once, and understanding the importance of having multiple individuals review your questions for hidden biases, years later, I went through a similar process when Sahiyo designed its study on Khatna among Dawoodi Bohra women. Prior to engaging Bohra women for the study, our research tool (the survey) was vetted by many NGOs and expert researchers.  

If this newest Khafz questionnaire by Dr. Tasneem Saify, Dr. Munira Radhanpurwala T & Dr. Rakhee K had been vetted by other individuals and institutions, it would have recognized the following problems well before releasing the study to the public.

intro.JPG1) Participant consent

Prior to filling out a study, it is important that participants are informed of the study’s intention and are able to sign a consent form acknowledging that they understand the study’s purpose and are giving their permission for the findings to be used in a study’s report. The new Khafz -survey does not have a consent form that does such. [See Screenshot to the left]. In fact, the purpose of this survey is misleading to the reader. There is no mention of how the respondents are being recruited and if their responses will be anonymous or even held in confidence and in essence violates a respondents rights as a participant.

2) Confidentiality

The new Khafz survey form requires participants to provide information that will NOT allow their information to remain private. The study requires that participants add their Community ID (ITS52/Ejamaat) Number. As reported in Mumbai Mirror, the ITS number keeps track of a Dawoodi Bohra’s personal details, including the number of times a person visits the mosque. By requiring an individual to enter this information, already the researchers have directly violated a person’s right to privacy. The question also limits respondents to only those who have signed up for such an ITS number. This, therefore, rules out the participation of many individuals born into the Bohra community or to a Bohra parent who may not have signed up for the ITS card for a variety of reasons, but who have had to undergo FGC as children because of a decision made by a family member or community member.

The mandatory requirement of disclosing one’s ITS number can also discourage an individual from filling out the survey for fear of backlash from the religious community for disagreeing with the practice of Khafz Such backlash occurs on a regular basis against advocates speaking against FGC as can be viewed on Sahiyo’s social media accounts. (See Sahiyo Activist Needs Assessment to learn more about the challenges individuals face when they speak in opposition to FGC).

3) Biased questions Khafz survey Q2

Besides the problematic ITS number, the wording of subsequent questions on the new Khafz survey is biased and considered to be leading questions that prompt survey respondents to answer in a specific manner.  Khafz survey Q5

For instance, Questions 2, 5, 9, and 10 make assumptions about religious freedom, media, and activists, rather than posing the questions and response choices in a more neutral, open-ended form.

Khafz survey Q9n10

Questions 12 and 13 are perfect examples of problematic, leading questions: Question 12 Khafz survey Q1213offers a definition of the word “mutilation” without any context to why the word is being asked. Question #13 then frames the question in a manner that can minimize or under report a participant’s level of distress associated with khatna/khafz, and also automatically suggests to the participant that the practice is not mutilation. 

Question 14 is confusing for another reason. The introductory paragraph by the researchers suggests that male participants can take part in the study, however, Question 14 is written and geared towards female participants who undergo Khatna/khafz. Khafz survey Q14Yet, because of the asterisk (*), the question is mandatory for all respondents, meaning men would have to submit a response to Question #14. This inclusion of information would automatically invalidate the data collected as men have NOT gone through khafz. The wording of the question also infers that all Dawoodi Bohra women have undergone khatna/khafz, which, from anecdotal reports and previous research on FGC in the Bohra community, we recognize is not the case. In fact, we do see a trend in the Bohra community of people wanting to give up the practice on future generations of girls. Yet, the survey makes no mention of this trend or suggests that it is even an option amongst survey respondents.

Overall, the Khafz/Khatna study is problematic for an entire milieu of reasons, not only the ones I have listed here. However, as a researcher, a social worker, and a woman who has undergone FGC because I was born into the Bohra community, what saddens me the most about this survey is that it is yet another attempt to discredit and disbelieve the numerous women and girls who have spoken up and stated that FGC was harmful to them. These women have spoken up for no other reason than to be believed, and instead of comforting them, the researchers of this new Khfaz/Khatna questionnaire are trying to silence them.

We did a project on FGC in college and learned our Bohra Classmates had undergone it too

By Rachael Alphonso, Green Madcaps

City: Mumbai, India

I’m no fan of Vogue, so I was wondering what the face of a pretty African model, Waris Dirie, was doing on the cover of my favourite Reader’s Digest. ‘Desert Flower’, the title said. Her photo betrayed no sign of what she had suffered in her childhood – Female Circumcision or Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

‘Circumcision’ – wasn’t it something only men had to undergo? How was it physically possible for women? And why? Having read the Bible and references to the Torah, I had never found any reference to women needing circumcision. So what was this all about?

I read the article, “….a sharp stone…I felt the sting…my flesh was being torn away…no anaesthetic….” I couldn’t imagine the pain!

Had it not been the Reader’s Digest, I would not have believed it! Because of her ‘circumcision’, menstruation for Waris was utterly painful. She could not have a steady flow which resulted in painful cramps. Soon, she was married to a man a few decades her senior who would have to tear open the skin over his wife’s vagina to be able to penetrate her during sex. Childbirth would be worse.

I was stunned reading about it, and when my group in college was asked to do a project I was quick to gain support from my group to investigate this topic. We began our research. Our discussions and debates within the group, despite all efforts, became one-sided simply because we believed that nothing ever could justify the genital mutilation that Waris or any other girl suffered as a result of the circumcision. We could not find any medical or rational evidence that supported the idea.

But the perpetrators of FGM continued to say it was done for the ‘benefit’ of the women and that women’s sexuality needed to be tamed. Men ‘simply fell for it’ [sex], and men could not control themselves, so women had to be controlled. We found this argument had taken different forms in different cultures, emerging into practices that control women and make them believe they are nothing more than their sexual organs, nothing more than a womb that bears children.

We presented this topic to the rest of our class, and were proud of ourselves for doing so. Unconsciously, we also believed we were less affected by FGM because we also believed FGM could not happen in India.

We were wrong.

After our presentation we learned that many of our classmates were victims of ‘khatna’– a practice by which a piece of the clitoral hood is removed. Our classmate told us that the reason given by her religious leaders was that if a woman found pleasure in her sexual organs she would go on a rampant sexual orgy with anybody. Her sexual urges needed to be controlled so her morality was ensured. Their justification for khatna was also aligned with their belief that because men cannot control their sexual urges, women must remain covered and ‘decently’ dressed.

The classmate who spoke of her own khatna and her cousin’s ‘khatna’ revealed that when they experience sex, they most likely would not be able to experience the clitoral orgasmand/or sex would seem slightly sensitive, but that’s all in terms of ill effects.

She also informed us that nowadays, painkillers are used, and the procedure is done by a qualified medical professional. My group realized that she was made to believe that khatna was good for her, the harm nonexistent, as long as the cutting was done using the correct instruments and anesthetics.Later, we realized that many women may be traumatized by their experience but they are unable to speak about it, because they may not recognize they have a right to do so

While Nigeria banned FGM in early 2016 – something that my presentation group and I heralded as a great move – we also learned that the Bohra leaders in India announced ‘khatna’ as a necessary part of their religion. The leaders claim it was meant for cleanliness, but to me, it is clear that the clitoris is in no need of surgical manipulation for cleanliness. What I find most interesting is that these ‘rules’ and ‘announcements’ were made by men (as the Bohra religious authorities are all men) who themselves do not possess a vagina and know little about the care of one.

Millions of women have survived without undergoing khatna. My friends and I are among them. Then why are my Bohra sisters forced to believe otherwise? Who made these rules? Does the rule-maker have a vagina?

(The original article appears on Green Madcap’s blog.)

Rachael Alphonso is a life-long learner, a feminist and an environmentalist.

Miti sitabi: Sahiyo hosts a special edition of Thaal pe Charcha in Mumbai

Sahiyo’s fifth Thaal pe Charcha event in Mumbai on April 7 was perhaps its most special one so far. On popular demand by the regular participants of the group, this Thaal pe Charcha was a miti sitabi — a special women’s meal hosted in honour of the Prophet’s daughter, Ma Fatema. At Sahiyo’s event, this special meal was hosted as a tribute to those Bohra girls who were not allowed to participate in miti sitabis if they were not circumcised.

Thaal pe Charcha, which loosely translates as “discussions over food”, is a Sahiyo flagship programme that brings together Bohra women and men in a safe space to share their feelings, experiences and views on Female Genital Cutting or khatna, while bonding over traditional Bohra food. This programme began in February 2017 with a group of 16 Bohra women and now has more than 30 women and men associated with it.

The April 7 Thaal pe Charcha had 21 of those participants, including five men. In fact, while there were two women-only thaals (traditional large dishes for seating 8 people) for the miti sitabi meal, this was the first time that a group of Bohra men had their own historic miti sitabi thaal. The meal began with traditional jaggery and roti, which is eaten at the start of every miti sitabi. At the end of the meal, participants completed the traditions by applying henna, perfume and small gifts with each other.

The only tradition that this miti sitabi did not follow was that of khatna, of using khatna as a definer of who a true Bohra is and who gets to sit at special community thaal events. This miti sitabi was open to all.

At the Thaal pe Charcha event, participants also shared stories about their journeys after they started speaking out about FGC. One participant, who was attending a Thaal pe Charcha for the first time, talked about how she resisted family pressure and managed to spare her younger daughter from the cut, even though she could not save her older daughter. Another participant shared her experience of having a khatna discussion with her father, who was convinced that FGC was mandated by the Shariat. However, after she had a heartfelt conversation with him, her father acknowledged the pain she had been put through and apologised to her.  Participants concluded the Thaal pe Charcha with a lively discussion on other kinds of social norms, besides khatna, that patriarchal communities use to repress women.

Screen Shot 2018-04-14 at 2.06.54 PM

બોહરાઓ વચ્ચે આધુનિક્તાની ખોટી માન્યતા

આ આર્ટિકલ પહેલા સહિયો દ્વારા તારીખ 11 મે 2017ના રોજ અંગ્રેજીમાં પ્રકાશિતકરવામાં આવ્યો હતો. Read the English version here.

લેખક: અનામી

ઉંમર : 33
જન્મનો દેશ : ભારત
વર્તમાન નિવાસસ્થાન : અમેરિકા

હું દાઉદિ બોહરા કુટુંબમાં જન્મેલો મરદ છું. યુનાઈટેડ સ્ટેટ્સમાં મારો અને મારા ભાઈનો ઉછેર એકદમ સામાન્ય રીતે થયો છે. અમે અમેરિકાના એક ખૂબ જ ધર્મનિરપેક્ષ મંડળના સભ્યો હતા. મારા માતા-પિતા હંમેશા મને કહેતા કે અમે કેવી રીતે અન્ય મુસ્લિમો કરતા અલગ હતા. અમારો સમાજ અમારા દીકરાઓ અને દીકરીઓના શિક્ષણ ને મહત્વ આપતા. આપણા સમાજમાં ઘણા બૈરાઓ વ્યાપાર કરે છે, ડૉક્ટરો છે  અને પોતે ઘરખર્ચ ઉપાડે છે. અમે વહાબી તો નથી જ.

મને સ્પષ્ટ રીતે યાદ છે કે મારા “મિસાક” લેવાના સમયે, હું મારા માતા-પિતા સાથે “20/20” ન્યૂઝ પ્રોગ્રામનો એક એપિસોડ જોતો હતો. તેનો એક ભાગ સોમાલિયાના ફીમેલ જેનિટલ મ્યુટિલેશન વિષે હતો. અમે તે પૂરો ભાગ જોયો અને રૂમમાં શાંતિ પ્રસરી ગઈ… જ્યારે તમે માતા-પિતા સાથે ફિલ્મ જોતા હો અને પ્રેમનું દ્રશ્ય આવે ત્યારે જેવી મૂંઝવણ અનુભવો તેવી મૂંઝવણ થવા લાગી. મારા માતા-પિતા શા માટે શરમ મેહસુસ કરતા હતા તે મને સમજાયું નહિં પરંતુ, થોડા દિવસો પછી બધા તે બાબતને ભૂલી ગયા.

 

દશ વર્ષ પછી, હુંએક દાઉદિ બોહરા બૈરી સાથે લાગણી સભર સંબંધ ધરાવતો હતો (જે અત્યારે મારી પત્ની છે). પહેલી વાર જ્યારે અમે સંભોગ કરતા હતા ત્યારે તેણી ખૂબ જ રડવા લાગી. તેણી સાથે શું કરવામાં આવ્યું હતુ તે વિષે મને વાત કરી. જ્યારે તેણીએ કૉલેજમાં આ બાબત વિષે સાંભળ્યું ત્યાં સુધી તેણીને પોતાને ખબર નહોતી કે તેની સાથે શું કરવામાં આવ્યું છે. જ્યારે તે પ્રક્રિયા તેણી પર કરવામાં આવી ત્યારે તેણીએ પગના અંગૂઠા સુધી પીડા આપતો વીજળીનો જટકો મહેસુસ કર્યો પરંતુ, હું એ પ્રથમ વ્યક્તિ હતો જેણે એ તરંગનીઅસરમેહસુસ કરી હતી. તેણી ડરી ગઈ હતી અને કંઈક ગુમાવ્યાની લાગણી અનુભવતી હતી.તેણીની ખૂબ ઈચ્છા હતી કે મારી સાથે સંભોગ માણી સંબંધોને ગાઢ બનાવે પરંતુ, તેવું ક્યારે થઈ શક્યું નહિં. એક સંપૂર્ણ બૈરી તરીકેની તેણીની ક્ષમતા સાથે એ સુખ, યુવાવસ્થામાં જ તેણીની મરજી વિના છીનવી લેવામાં આવ્યું હતુ. અમે સાથે મળી તેનો સામનો કર્યો. મેં તેણીનું કાઉન્સેલિંગ કરાવ્યું અને તેણીને ફરી ખાતરી આપી કે આપણો પ્રેમ વધુ મજબૂત થશે પરંતુ, તેણી અને હું બન્ને જાણતા હતા કે એ ક્ષણે તેણીએ જે ગુમાવ્યું છે તે ક્યારેય કોઈપણ વ્યક્તિ પાછું આપી શકશે નહિં.

અંતે, “20/20”ની એ ક્ષણ મને સમજમાં આવી. બે દિકરાઓ ધરાવતા મારા માતા-પિતાએ ક્યારેય તેમના બાળકોમાં શારીરિક બદલાવ કરવા જેવો પીડાદાયક નિર્ણય કરવો પડ્યો નહોતો પરંતુ, સ્પષ્ટ રીતે કહું તો જો અમે બન્ને ભાઈઓ માંથી કોઈ એક દિકરી હોત તો આ પ્રક્રિયાને અનુસરવા માટે જબરદસ્ત દબાણ કરવામાં આવ્યું હોત. સમાજ તેની ખોટી વાતો ફેલાવે છે કે એ “તમારા સુખી લગ્ન જીવન માટે છે”, “તમે સારી પત્ની બની શકો તે માટે છે.” પાછળથી મારા માતા-પિતા પાસેથી મને જાણવા મળ્યું કે મારા કુટુંબની બધી દિકરીઓ પર આ પ્રક્રિયા કરવામાં આવી છે. હું આ વાત માની શક્યો નહિં. જ્યારે તમારા 50% બાળકો મધ્યયુગની પ્રથાનો ભોગ બની રહ્યાં છે તો શા માટે તમે આધુનિક્તાનો મુખોટો પહેરીને ફરો છો? જો તમારી સંપૂર્ણ આધ્યાત્મિક બનવાની પૂર્વ શરત તેમના માટે શારીરિક કમી હોય તો બૈરાઓની સ્વતંત્રા સાથે છેડછાડ કરવાનું બંધ કરો.

મારી સુંદર પત્નીએ મને ઘણુ બધું શીખવ્યું છે. તેણીએ મને માફ કરવાનું અને શક્તિ આપવાનું શીખવ્યું છે. જો હું મારી પત્નીની જગ્યાએ હોત તો ચોક્કસ મેં તેનો વિરોધ કર્યો હોત.સમય આવી ગયો છે કે બધા દાઉદિ બોહરા સાથે મળીને આ મુદ્દાનો ઉકેલ લાવે.આ પ્રક્રિયા આસ્થા પર એક કલંક છે.ઈસ્લામમાં તેનું કોઈ સ્થાન નથી, તે આપણા બૈરાઓને ભરપાઈ ના થઈ શકે તેવી હાનિ પહોંચાડે છે અને આ પ્રક્રિયા, આપણે આધુનિક અને નમ્ર મુસ્લિમો હોવાનો દાવો કરીએ છીએ તેનાથી વિપરીત છે. આ મુદ્દાને અંધકાર માંથી પ્રકાશમાં લઈ આવવાનો સમય આવી ગયો છે.

The undecided: Conversations with survivors of Female Genital Cutting in Pakistan

By Hina Javed

(This is the fourth part in a series of essays by Hina Javed on her experience of reporting on FGC in Pakistan. Read the whole series here: Pakistan Journal.)

My conversations with survivors had by now made it clear that the more answers I received, the more questions arose. Wrapping my head around Female Genital Cutting (FGC) was not going to be easy as I had, up till that point, been presented with two extreme views of FGC with little room for middleground.

I found myself diving deeper to uncover the truth behind a practice which spanned centuries; a curiosity fuelled my quest to get to the very origins of such an invasive practice.   

From the outside, the Bohra community seemed united, but I found the more I scratched at the community’s surface, the divisions and differences of opinion on FGC became evident. Publicly, the Bohra community will protect their own; quietly, they dissent amongst themselves.

Getting to the bottom of this practice had become more than an assignment for me. The following day I found myself sitting in the drawing room of an elderly lady who belonged to the Bohra community in Karachi. Here was 65-year-old Mrs Sumaira*, ready to answer all my questions without a hint of doubt or hesitation:

“Aunty, what is your opinion on female circumcision? Is it right or wrong?”

“Well, I cannot comment on the moral and legal implications of the practice. It is not for me to decide. All I know is that circumcision is sanctioned by our community leader. I am not entirely sure if it is right or wrong, but I believe the decision should be left with the child,” said Mrs Sumaira.

“What about you? Did you get your daughter circumcised? Did you inform her prior to her circumcision? How did you feel when she was finally cut?” I asked without bothering to check my train of thought or questioning.

“I was in my early thirties when the pressure to get my little one cut started building inside me. I knew it was supposed to happen sooner or later. I feared a backlash from the family elders if I delayed it any further. It was a rite of passage and my daughter had to go through it. My only, and probably biggest fault, was not telling the truth to an innocent child who thought she was going to a lady doctor for a routine check up. I told her they might perform a small operation if they found a ‘bug’ down there. I deeply regretted lying to her when I saw her bleeding and in pain,” she told me somberly.

“Why did you regret? Was it only the pain that made you feel guilty or was it something else?” I asked.

The answer she gave me came ridden with doubt. Sumaira believed she had little choice all those years ago.

“Maybe this wasn’t the right thing to do. Maybe I took something away from her; something that actually belonged to her the minute she opened her eyes. I could have given it a second thought, but I was overwhelmed with uncertainty and wanted to get it out of the way. I knew I would get a lot of raised brows if I avoided it altogether. In fact, I would have been ostracised from the community,” she added.

My line of questioning had ruffled some feathers, and I became more determined to seek answers. “Aunty, forgive me if I am being too intrusive, but didn’t you say you believed it was a necessary rite of passage?”

Sumaira explained that the decision she took for her daughter, without the latter’s consent, was in the girl’s best interest.

“I believe it depends on the type of society you live in and the level of exposure you get growing up. It’s true that circumcision lowers the libido and you have no right to take that away from an individual. However, it becomes necessary to control that drive if the girl is growing up in a conservative society like Pakistan. If she goes ‘astray’,  she would be called names and looked down upon. Besides, she would also have to suppress her desires which could ultimately lead to psychological issues like depression and anxiety,” she said.

“Does that mean it is more of a social requirement than a religious ritual in the Bohra community?” I asked, confused. Sumaira’s reply made it clear she was also confused.

“It could be, but I am not entirely sure about that. I believe it’s good if you get it done. However, there is an element of choice which people did not realise back in the day. People who are growing up in a free society and have liberal mindsets could either do away with it or let their child decide.”

Sumaira continued to speak but her response left a deafening silence from me. It became difficult to detach myself emotionally and focus on that interview. Therefore, I targeted my final question at just that; breaking the silence.

“Then why do you think breaking the silence will help? Why did you decide to speak about this issue in the first place? How will it change the narrative?” I asked apprehensively.

“It’s just the question of expressing yourself. If you disagree with the practice, you should be able to voice your opinion without being bashed by others. And if you want to go for it, then there’s no one stopping you. In either case, there’s no reason for it to be a hush-hush affair. There is more awareness, education and freedom of expression in this day and age. You’re free to make your own decision,” she concluded.

The hour-long question and answer session with Sumaira left me more confused than before. My search for the right answer was becoming fruitless with every interview, but, in the midst of it all, I realised that three categories of people existed in the Bohra community when it came to FGC: the decided, the undecided, and the opposed.

Sumaira is a pseudonym. The person’s original name has been changed to protect her identity.

Building the data on Female Genital Cutting in the Bohra Community

In February 2017, Sahiyo released the findings of the first ever large scale global study on Female Genital Cutting in the Bohra community in order to gain insight into how and why this harmful practice continued. A year later, this February 2018 saw the release of a second large-scale research study entitled “The Clitoral Hood – A Contested Site”, conducted by Lakshmi Anantnarayan, Shabana Diler and Natasha Menon in collaboration with WeSpeakOut and Nari Samata Manch. The study explored the practice of FGM/C in the Bohra community specifically in India and added findings about the sexual impact of FGC on Bohra women. Substantial overlap between the two studies can be found and parallels can be drawn.

Firstly, both studies explored the type of FGM/C that was carried out on the participants. The study by Sahiyo discovered that out of the 109 participants who were aware of the procedure that was carried out on them, 23 reported having undergone Type 1a – the removal of the clitoral hood. Research carried out by Anantnarayan et. al. found that although proponents of FGM/C in India claim that Bohras only practice Type 1a and Type 4 FGM/C (pricking, piercing or cauterization of the clitoral hood), participants reported that both Types 1a and 1b (partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or clitoral hood) are most often practiced.

Sahiyo and Anantnarayan et. al. both found that the majority of participants had undergone FGM/C and therefore, among both samples, FGM/C was widely practiced. Sahiyo found that 80% of 385 female participants had undergone the practice, whereas Anantnarayan et. al. found that of the 83 female participants in the study, 75% reported that their daughters had undergone FGC. Both studies found that FGM/C was performed at around the age of seven.

The impact of FGM/C on participants was also reported to be similar among participants of both studies. In exploring this further, Anantnarayan et. al. found that 97% of participants remembered FGM/C as a painful experience. Participants who had undergone the practice reported painful urination, physical discomfort, difficulty walking, and bleeding to be the immediate effects after having undergone FGM/C. In the long-term, some women reported that they suffered from recurring Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) and incontinence, which they suspect could be linked to their khatna.

Both studies also explored the effect of FGM/C on participants’ sex lives. Anantnarayan et. al. found that approximately 33% of participants believe that FGM/C has negatively impacted their sex life. Similarly, Sahiyo reported findings of 35% of participants who believed that FGM/C has negatively impacted their sex lives. Some of the problems identified by several participants included low sex drive, the inability to feel sexual pleasure, difficulty trusting sexual partners, and over-sensitivity in the clitoral area.

Physical consequences of FGM/C in both studies also revealed psychological consequences. Similar to Sahiyo’s findings, Anantnarayan et. al. found that many participants reported feelings of fear, anxiety, shame, anger, depression, low self-esteem, and difficulty trusting people as some of the psychological repercussions of their FGM/C experience. Sahiyo found that 48% of participants in their study reported that FGM/C had left them with a lasting psychological impact.

Both Sahiyo and Anantnarayan et. al. also explored the main reasons for the the continuation of FGM/C within the Bohra community. Several common reasons were found, including the continuation of an old traditional practice, the adherence to religious edicts, and to control women’s promiscuity and sexual behaviour.

Interestingly, Sahiyo’s study found that 80% of women had earned at least a Bachelor’s degree, no relationship could be determined between education level and having undergone FGC. Meanwhile, the study by Anantnarayan et. al found that a strong connection existed between a mother’s education level and her decision to continue FGC on her daughter.

Sahiyo’s study, however, did note that more important than education level was the question of a person’s ideological preference (stated religion) as it might influence a person’s decision to continue FGC on their daughter. In fact, Sahiyo’s survey found that those who were most likely to continue ‘khatna’ were also more likely to still identify as Dawoodi Bohra in their adult life. Anantnarayan et. al also determined that the more diverse personal networks and economic independence from the Bohra religious community a woman had, the more likely they were to discontinue FGM/C and renounce it.

Finally, both studies examined the relationship between men and the decision/involvement for a girl to undergo FGC. Both studies did allude to the idea that the decision leading to a girl undergoing FGM/C may not strictly be confined to women. Sahiyo’s study revealed that 72% of respondents believed that men were aware of the practice, but only 27% believed that men were told of the practice when the girl underwent it in their family. Anantnarayan et. al. concluded that men played an integral role in the maintenance and propagation of the practice, both at the personal and political level, whether passively or more actively. However, Sahiyo’s data collection was completed in 2016, prior to the large-scale movement to end FGC in the Bohra community. The last few years have shown that with an increase in awareness of FGC amongst the public, Bohra men’s own knowledge of FGC has also naturally increased, and thus the traditional idea that men are unaware of FGC may in fact be changing with the current generation, as pointed out by Anantnarayan et. al.

 

My fight with a male cousin who thinks Khatna is good

By: Shabana Feroze

Every year, Feb 6 is International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation by the United Nations. Being a survivor of FGC myself, I’m an active volunteer with Sahiyo, and as such, I shared a post about the day and about Sahiyo on my facebook profile page. I got a few likes but after a few hours, one of my male cousins commented on the post with a link to femalecircumcision.org. The article on that website spoke about how FGC is necessary and a good thing.

When I saw that comment, I was naturally affronted. The first thought that ran through my head towards my male cousin was – no vagina, no opinion, sweetheart. It bothers me so much that MEN think they can make decisions on what needs to be done to women’s bodies. You are not a woman. You are not entitled to tell women what we can or cannot do with our bodies. I underwent FGC when I was seven. I’m the one who was traumatized. Not you. I’m the one who has to deal with the pain that part of my body is missing because of a traditional ritual, not you. How dare you tell me that what happened to me was necessary and a good thing and that it should continue happening.

I had a long argument with him through Facebook comments, telling him the thoughts I listed above. I even said that if he thinks the practice is good and necessary, then the girl should be able to grow up and decide to do it for herself. His response, “My Body, My Rights is a cheesy line”. His lack of acknowledging my personal experience in having undergone FGC said to me that he believed the larger society could do anything to my body or to any one else’s body. He then posted another link from the same website on consent and parental rights. The article claims

“Although regulated, a parent’s right to make decisions on behalf of a child is acknowledged as fundamental and universal, even for practices which can cause harm to the child and carry no medical benefit.”

Yes, the article acknowledged that FGC is harmful, but the article lessened the pain, and compared FGC to practices such as ear piercing and vaccinations. These procedures are legal and harmless. The article also claimed that Prophet Muhammad said FGC should be done, and gave a few spiritual and religious reasons like ‘taharah’ for doing so. His recurring point was that KHAFZ IS NOT FGM (written in caps).

Throughout the conversation of me refuting his points with science and hard fact and telling him that the World Health Organisation recognizes all forms of cutting of the female genitalia as FGM, I found that his counter points were always mired in spirituality and religion (this cousin of mine is a mulla or a sheik in the Bohra community).

I find the entire notion that ‘khafz is not FGC’ as preposterous. It’s the same thing, no matter what name you give it. Medical research has shown that FGC is harmful. FGC is opposed by the United Nations and the World Health Organization. So please don’t tell me that FGC is a good thing. Further what really, truly angers me is that my cousin, this MAN is fighting me on and issue that affects the woman’s body, my body! My cousin’s attitude reminded me of his male privilege, and his inability to understand that he has no ability to control my body or to think he knows what is best for me as a woman. And this reality scares and saddens me the most because my cousin is also the father of two girls, who if they undergo FGC, will forever be reminded that they too, just like me, had no control over our own bodies.