The horrors of female genital mutilation & it is happening very much in Sri Lanka!
Posted on June 22nd, 2017

Shenali D Waduge

 This is being written at the request of a Muslim Activist who wants the Sri Lankan public to be aware of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia. It is also known as “female circumcision”. It is not mandated in the Koran but it does have religious basis. The tragedy is that it is, in its more severe forms, harmful to the female and questions whether some religious customs should be allowed to continue. In such a scenario, with global attention on FGM, the question is where are the feminists and organizations that claim to work for the interests of women and children, why are they not coming forward to stop this harmful practice? It is time this topic came into the open and women themselves are allowed to speak against it – after all it is their body that is being cut and no mother wants to knowingly allow her daughter to undergo the same suffering she had no choice about!

The religious books revere women but how is it that in practice women have no choice? Women have been forced to believe that FGM is essential to control their sexuality and to ensure she remains a virgin before marriage. Another set of women believe that FGM makes a girl part of a community. There are others who float the notion of hygiene, while others claim it is part of religious duty while in most instances a cultural necessity is projected alongside the most important belief that it is obligatory for girls to undergo FGM in order to get married. However, it is now globally accepted that FGM is a violation of human rights of girls and women on whatever grounds it is argued in favour of. So where are the feminist groups? Why are they not coming forward on behalf of women & girls?

Unlike for male circumcision, FGM has No health benefits, only health risks. FGM is a means of controlling female sexuality though some claim the less severe form (cutting the prepuce of the clitoris) offers health benefits, though this is not at all proven. Some even claim it improves sexual satisfaction in women, again without any evidence. Actually circumcised women have difficulty reaching orgasm they are less active sexually and are not able to sexually please their partners. They also find difficulty in self-lubricating during sex which leads to tearing and painful intercourse. What is more dangerous is the possibility of the closed opening in more severe forms tearing during childbirth leading to death of the child. Every year several million women approach childbirth knowing that the risk will be greater because some or all of their genitalia has been cut away.

FGM is practiced in at least 26 of 43 African countries. FGM is also found among some ethnic groups in Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen, as well as in parts of India, Indonesia, and Malaysia. We now learn it is taking place in Sri Lanka, secretly too.

According to Amnesty International 500,000 Europeans are victims of FGM. FGM is illegal in the US since 1996 punishable by law upto 5 years in prison. In May 2017, Michigan U.S. Attorney’s Office indicted 2 Muslim doctors for FGM. However, the number of women and girls subject to FGM is estimated to have doubled in the past decade. (Population Reference Bureau (PRB).)

Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Djibouti, Ghana, Great Britain, Guinea, Sudan, Sweden, and the United States have laws against FGM.In 2015 Nigeria made history by outlawing female genital mutilation. UNICEF claims 44 million victims of FGM around the world are aged 14 or younger, and the majority of girls who have had their genitals mutilated were cut before they were five years old.

It is estimated that 88% of Sierra Leonean girls were cut, the seventh highest rate of the 28 countries in Africa where FGM is practised. However, quite a number of men are against the practice though the stigma of how Muslim society will treat them entails their silence.

In 2012, a regional court in Cologne, western Germany ruled that the “fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents”, setting a legal precedent. In 2012, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution to eliminate female genital mutilation by increasing education on the harms of the practice

FGM violates the following international conventions that protect women and children

Sri Lanka has no law against FGM, it happens underground. Renuka Senanayake writing to the Inter Press Service confirms this Few people outside Sri Lanka know that infant girls in the small Muslim community undergo what is known as female circumcision” Forty days after birth, tiny thighs are firmly held apart by mothers and grandmothers as the traditional ‘osthimami’ removes the clitoris.” She goes on to say A study by a non-governmental organisation, however, reveals that nearly 90 percent of Sri Lankan Muslims and Borahs, a sect of Muslims, support FGM.

Is it out of fear that they are supporting or are they looking for more voices to emerge against it?

Zameena, a young mother of a five-year-old girl did not want her daughter circumcised either. She refused outright when her mother-in-law said she must continue with a practice that is part of traditional culture. But the older woman went ahead anyway. I was furious when I returned home to find my daughter, then 3 months old, howling in pain,” she recalls. I am helpless when members of my family still believe that it is part of our religion.”

How many Sri Lankan Muslim women hold Zameena’s view?

Lankaweb carries an expose on the practice of FGM in Sri Lanka. It is shocking to know that ‘almost all Sri Lankan Muslim women are circumcised’. This includes  Moors & Malays who belong to the Shafi Mazhab which regards FGM as compulsory. This means 98% of Sri Lanka’s Muslim populace have no choice. Even the Bohras practice it.

What is equally shocking is that the All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ulama (ACJU) regarded as the Supreme Council of Muslims in Sri Lanka has issued a fatwa in Tamil making it compulsory. According to the Shafee school of thought its compulsory circumcising Muslim both male as well as females.

Sri Lankan Muslim girls are being circumcised on the 40th day while Bohra girls are cut between the ages of 7-10 years. These cuts are done by a woman called Ostha-maami” while educated women will go to lady doctors.

The Lankaweb expose gives three interviews giving accounts of circumcision of their daughters. The first believing that it was a must for Muslim girls not to be promiscuous, the second female, angry at having hurt her baby daughter and the last who had not been circumcised and was reprimanded by her husband on the day they were to consume their marriage! The husband had gone to the extent of arranging a woman to arrive to cut her at the age of 29!

It is surprising that the very prominent Muslim women in Sri Lanka are not taking up this issue at least citing the health risks or do their feminism have brakes!

Jezima Ismail in the interview with IPS says there was a lack of research to back a campaign for the outlawing of the brutal practice” while Dr.Mareena Riffai contradicts herself in the interview with Renuka S. Dr. Riffai says orthodox women believe they will be wracked by sexual desire if the clitoris is not scraped off. They are not willing to admit that the crude operation leads to infection, abscesses, infertility and painful sex” though she claims the rise of Islamic fundamentalism on the island and the fact that female circumcision does not have religious sanction, has forced it to go underground”.

But if the ritual has been turned into a religious custom, considering that the risk factors are high to the health of both child & mother, and if many Muslim women do not want their daughters to go through the pain (physical and mental) that they went through why is this practice continuing in the 21st century especially when globally countries are now dealing with the issue and even banning the practice while the UN too has declared it a violation on the human rights of both the woman and child.

However there is no Muslim women, women’s groups or the human rights champions to speak on behalf of the Muslim women in Sri Lanka and address this practice which is getting global attention leading to its complete ban as seen in the case of Nigeria.

It is time the subject was brought into the open and addressed.

Shenali D Waduge

Listen to the horrific stories of women – – India’s Dark Secret – a Cut against lust – I watched my sister die in childbirth – Mummy why did you cut me – Female genital mutilation is about controlling women’s sexuality – sex after FGM

CENWOR, (1993). Shadows and Vistas: On Being a Girl Child in Sri Lanka (Colombo, Centre for Women’s Research).

5 Responses to “The horrors of female genital mutilation & it is happening very much in Sri Lanka!”

  1. Christie Says:

    We all have problems when it comes to sex? What about hymen testing by the laundry lady?

    Cutting the foreskin or FGM seems a very old practice in lands where dust is a problem and water is scares. Dust in wet skin areas must have lead to infections and discomfort leading to removal of it. The practices become a part of religious activities as religions evolves..

    These days such practices are not needed as dust is not a problem and you can wash off dust or cover with clothes etc.

  2. Ananda-USA Says:

    Thank you Shenali, as a female, in speaking out firmly against this HORRIBLE PRACTICE in all of its gory detail.

    Both Male and Female Circumcision should be OUTLAWED in Sri Lanka, as well as Muslim polygamy and the capability to Divorce wives by the simple act of repeating “I divorce thee” three times.

    ONE System of Law should apply to ALL residents of Sri Lanka if we are to succeed in making Sri Lanka into ONE Indivisible Nation of ONE Inseparable People sharing ONE Indomitable National Destiny.

  3. Nimal Says:

    If this is true then the government pass rules to ban and punish the parents and others involved. It is truly shocking the horrible sides of religions are raising it’s head.

  4. Dilrook Says:

    This is unthinkable barbarianism.

    Practicing it in Sri Lanka is a disgrace and must be clamped down. It must be specifically made illegal.

    This has little to do with Islam. Even in Wahabi Saudi Arabia it is not practiced.

  5. Senevirath Says:

    මේවා නොදැක්ක වාගේ නොඇසුව වාගේ ඉන්න සිංහල ගැහැණු මිනිස්සුන්ගෙත් මේවා කැ පිය යුතුය් එතකොටය් සංහිඳියාව ඇතිවෙන්නේ

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