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India: Release of WeSpeakOut study on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting among the Bohra community

5 February

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PRESS RELEASE

New Delhi, 5 February

Female Genital Mutilation is a human rights violation that India should outlaw: Shashi Tharoor

  • Survivor group WeSpeakOut reveals New Groundbreaking National Research on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) in India
  • MP Dr Shashi Tharoor releases study with largest evidence of FGM/C in India
  • Research report marks International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM/C on Feb 6, 2018
  • WeSpeakOut 1st revealed evidence of FGM/C through their Change.org campaign in 2015

“The practise of Female Genital Mutilation is a violation of basic human rights, a woman’s bodily integrity, her dignity and her right to choose. It is indispensable for India to outlaw the practise of Female Genital Mutilation”, Member of Parliament Dr Shashi Tharoor said today.

Releasing survivor group WeSpeakOut’s latest study on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting today at a press conference in New Delhi Dr. Shashi Tharoor, said, “FGM is an act that has been condemned around the world. For us in India to allow this practise to continue, sanctified as a cultural practise, is a big mistake. When we outlaw it, the practise will cease because the community concerned always has the reputation of upholding the law of the land.”

The report titled, “The Clitoral Hood a Contested Site: Khafd or Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) in India.” is the largest research report documenting the practise of FGM/C among the Bohra community.

WeSpeakOut’s current report is significant because it comes close on the heels of the Ministry of Women & Child Development’s affidavit in the Supreme Court denying the existence of FGM/C in India. Masooma Ranalvi, Founder of WeSpeakOut said, “Anyone who doubts or denies the existence of FGM/C in India must read this report filled with heart wrenching stories of the many harms from FGM/C. By turning a blind eye and doing nothing about FGM/C, the Government of India is denying women and girls their rights enshrined in the Indian constitution. In keeping with its international human rights commitments under numerous treaty bodies, India must at once pass a law that bans the act of providing FGM/C.”

The report is accessible online at: http://wespeakout.org/posts/wespeakout-commissioned-fgm-c-khatna-study-releases-results/

The study includes in depth one-on-one interviews with 94 individuals (83 women and 11 men). It covered 12 sites in four Indian states: Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, which have a high concentration of Bohras. The 12 sites were: Ahmedabad, Baroda, Bhavnagar, Dahod, Godhra, Indore, Mumbai, Pune, Ratlam,
 Selana, Surat, and Udaipur. Kerala, where a few Sunni Muslim sects are known to practice FGM/C was added later. Additionally Bohra expats from Canada, UAE, and USA also participated.

Durga Nandini, Director Communications, Change.org India said, "One of the first public evidences of the existence of FGM/C in India came through a Change.org petition started by WeSpeakOut in December 2015. The petition, which first revealed that survivors were spread out in several states in India, drew the support of over 100,000 Indians. This petition is part of growing global movement against Female Genital Mutilation where survivors in countries like UK, US and India are speaking up about their trauma."

Two years after the campaign began on Change.org, the Women & Child Development Minister first acknowledged FGM in India in May 2017 and urged the Bohra community end this practise immediately. But six months later, the Ministry submitted an official affidavit in the Supreme Court that “there is no official data which supports the existence of FGM.”

Key findings of the report

  • 75% of all daughters of the study sample were subjected to FGM/C
  • 97% of women who remembered their FGM/C experience from childhood recalled it as painful. While most women said they suffered immediate pain from the procedure only 2 women said they did not have any immediate or long-term impact from FGM/C.
  • Approximately 33% of women subjected to FGM/C in the study believe it has negatively impacted their sexual life. Low sex drive, inability to feel sexual pleasure, difficulty trusting sexual partners, and over sensitivity in the clitoral area were some of the problems identified by several women.
  • Close to 10% of the women who had undergone the procedure in the current study specifically mentioned urinary problems, recurring UTIs, burning and incontinence. In addition, one of the study participants reported bleeding of the clitoral hood area due to irritation.
  • Many respondents in the study reported feeling fear, anxiety, shame, anger, depression, low-self-esteem, and/or betrayal of trust as some of the fallouts that they associated with their FGM/C.

Debunking myths

Supporters of the harmful traditional practice in India claim that Khafd as practiced by Bohras is not ‘FGM/C’ because “it is just a nick on the clitoral hood, which is just useless skin anyway.”

The study shows that this is far from the truth. Lakshmi Anantnarayan writer of the report clarifies, “All three traditional circumcisers we spoke with confirmed that they used a scissor to remove a piece of skin or tissue, one of them even buried this piece of skin after each procedure. Further the clitoral hood is far from ‘useless’. It is an erogenous tissue with a protective function akin to the eyelids.”

Dr. Sujaat Vali, Ob-Gyn, who observed FGM/C in 20 female Bohra patients also confirmed that Type 1 FGM/C is the predominant practice in India.

A majority of those who practice FGM/C in India believed that it is a religious requirement. Shabana Diler, one of the researchers of the study emphasized, “We learnt that Khafd is mistakenly thought to be obligatory or compulsory by many who follow it, although it is only optional with no negative consequences when not performed. In fact Khafd explicitly violates several prohibitions of harm or Ithm in the Quran.”

This research also revealed other misconceptions surrounding the harmful traditional practice that equate it to male circumcision thereby linking Khafd to hygiene, purity, and cleanliness. It is dangerous to equate Khafd to male circumcision, owing to fundamental differences in male and female genital anatomy. There are no known benefits from the practice of Khafd as is often claimed by proponents.

Finally, the study also revealed a few unnerving current trends in FGM/C in India. The practice is increasingly medicalized and is being performed in medical facilities by doctors. With the crackdown on FGM/C in the Bohra community through the legal cases in Australia and USA, several respondents confirmed they knew of transportation of expat/foreign Bohra girls into India for the procedure. If FGM/C is not banned here, India runs the risk of becoming a hub for FGM/C of expat girls. Owing to increased public scrutiny of FGM/C, the practice is steadily going underground as more people involved in performing or promoting FGM/C from the community refrain from speaking about it publicly.

What is Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting?

According to the WHO, FGM/C comprises “all procedures that involve the altering or injuring of female genitalia for non-medical purposes and is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.”

FGM/C is risky and harmful. FGM/C has long been internationally recognized as a form of violence and discrimination against women and girls. It gravely affects women’s sexual pleasure, and their physical, & psychological well-being. It has been banned by a number of countries where the practice occurs, including Egypt, where Bohras trace part of their ancestry. FGM/C is not practiced in the majority of Islamic countries. Even the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (with 57 member countries) opposes FGM/C.

For further information:

The report is accessible online at: http://wespeakout.org/posts/wespeakout-commissioned-fgm-c-khatna-study-releases-results/

For media queries -

Durga Nandini, Director - Communications, Change.org India, Mob 9711994035, @nandinidurga, @ChangeOrg_India