Female Genital Cutting (FGC), Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Female circumcision or Khatna in Pakistan
Author: Marlene Pereira
Department: Pakistan Team
According to UNICEF data “at least 200 million girls and women alive today living in 30 countries have undergone FGM” and UN stated that “if the practice continues at the current pace, 68 million girls will be mutilated between 2015 and 2030 in 25 countries where FGM/C is routinely practiced and data is available” (UNFPA, 2022).
So, what is actually FGM/C and why is it important to talk about it?
Female Genital Cutting is a procedure to cut or remove the totality or parts of external female genitalia. This concept also includes all kinds of other injuries to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons, as defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO, 2022).
FGM/C is subdivided into four classifications (End FGM, n.d):
- Type 1: partial or total removal of the external part of the clitoral glands and/or its prepuce (clitoral hood).
- Type 2: external part of clitoris and labia minora are partially or totally removed, with or without the removal of the labia majora.
- Type 3: narrowing the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and appositioning the labia minora and/or labia majora, with or without removal of the external part of the clitoris.
- Type 4: all other procedures to the genitalia of women for non-medical purposes, such as pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization.
The most widely practised form of FGM/C in Pakistan is Type 1, called ‘khatna’ or ‘khafd’ by the Dawoodi Bohra community (Equality Now, 2021).
Because there are no recent official studies or reports on these matters in Pakistan, it is hard to have an accurate picture of the amplitude of this problem. The actual percentage of girls subjugated to FGM/C is unknown, but according to an “online survey conducted by Sahiyo” organisation, it is estimated by the preliminary results that more or less 80 percent of women in Pakistan had undergone FGM/C (Orchid Project, 2019).
Pakistani law does not specifically ban FGM/C. Thus, the practice continues, especially among the Dawoodi Bohra community. This ancient community has been practicing FGM/C for centuries as part of its culture and religion. Female circumcision is seen as an act of religious purity. Young girls are submitted to the procedure at the age of six to 12 to perpetuate the tradition while they have no real comprehension of the reasons for the procedure. FGM/C is sold to them as just something that is expected of girls, no reason is given, it is just presented as an unavoidable and inevitable act.
A mandatory obligation and a very well-kept secret, a taboo, a subject never to be talked about is what best describes khatna in Pakistan.
Pakistani society follows a patriarchal mindset up until today. FGM/C is only being questioned more and more because of strong women, brave enough to condemn the practice by sharing their personal experiences (Sahiyo, 2020). Jamila, 39, underwent FGM when she was nine – “My mother brought a midwife and some neighbours home. She prepared everything and left me alone with them in the room’ (…) “They took off my shorts, and each of them held one of my legs. The midwife had a small blade which she used to cut this part of me, and that was it” (BBC News, 2021). It is because of stories like this, the general public knows that most procedures are done without a doctor’s supervision, medical advice, and anaesthesia. In fact, the “doctors” are usually old, experienced women in the community, who perform the circumcision in their own homes.
There are no scientific benefits of FGM/C. Instead, there are several physical and mental consequences, among others, trauma, pain, bleeding, difficulty having sex, incontinence, bleeding, cysts and abscesses, repeated infections – which can lead to infertility – and life-threatening complications during childbirth (Soch Writing, 2020).
Young innocent girls are being cut, without their consent, without proper knowledge of the implications of FGM/C. They can bleed continuously and/or develop an infection, which even may lead to death. This procedure violates their right to have a healthy life, which is a part of their human rights (Soch Writing, 2020).
Because of that, FGM is condemned by several international legislation (End FGM, n.d):
- Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being”. FGM violates the right to health and bodily integrity, which is a violation of a person’s right to the highest attainable standard of health.
- Both rights provided in the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment are also being violated because FGM/C is in fact an act of torture and violence against women. The practice puts at risk the principles of equality and non-discrimination on the basis of sex, the right to life when the procedure results in death, and the right to freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
- And because in most of the cases FGM/C is performed in minor girls, rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child are at stake because this practice can harm the health and growth of young girls.
As we can conclude FGM/C is not a woman’s problem. It is a human rights violation. (End FGM, n.d)
So, how can we contribute to stop FGM/C?
We can contribute by l raising awareness about the danger of this practice.
Female genitals and sex are topics that people are still not comfortable to talk about, inspite of such modernization. It is a challenge that we all face and we can only overcome it with more and more testimonies, reports, articles, personal experiences, petitions, and arguments to empower women to discuss this subject publicly in the Pakistani community. Only then we can change the mindset of a society. The Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai said, “There’s a moment when you have to choose whether to be silent or to stand up.”
We should all stand up. A series of dialogues with the Dawoodi Bohra community, which is carried out in a culturally respectful manner, may gradually change the problem. Engagement with the locals is important because it can trigger the bottom-up transformation. In order to achieve this goal it would tremendously help if we have more data and information about all the facts concerning FGM/C. Only then a correlation between socio-economic conditions, family set-up and religious leanings and FGM/C could be made. Understanding the factors would allow a deeper understanding of FGM/C and how to prevent it. This is where the works of non-governmental organisations, such as Sahiyo, Orchid Project and End FGM/C, are very crucial (Sahiyo, 2017).
So what should you do?
- Understand the discriminatory reasons behind FGM/C. Educate yourself.
- Try to change traditions with the support of older generations, new generations, victims and activists.
- Educate not only girls but also all your community members about FGM/C and its implications. Especially for young girls, make them understand it is their choice.
- Speak out about the risks and complications about FGM/C, about religious secrecies and misunderstandings (religion does not demand FGM/C).
- Push hard to FGM/C to be banned. Be active!
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