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British Children Learning Basics of FGM to Curb the Taboos

FGM is underpinned by the desire to control female sexuality, but beliefs around the practice vary enormously. Many believe it purifies the girl, brings her status in the community and prevents promiscuity. Uncut girls risk being ostracized.

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An estimated 137,000 women and girls in England and Wales have undergone FGM, according to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).
A child in a class, pixabay

As teacher Tanya Mathiason flicked through a slideshow to display diagrams of male and female genitalia to primary school children in northwest London, no one flinched or giggled.

Instead, the students eagerly discussed the meaning of the words: female, genital and mutilation.

“Break those words down: What does female mean? What does genital mean? What does mutilation mean?” said Mathiason, the head of pastoral care at Norbury School in the culturally and ethnically diverse neighborhood of Harrow.

“It means when someone cuts off stuff?” replied one student.

“Harm?” said another.

By the time they leave Norbury School, all 640 students — both boys and girls — will have learned about female genital mutilation (FGM), a ritual that usually involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia including the clitoris.

An estimated 137,000 women and girls in England and Wales have undergone FGM, according to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).

FGM can cause chronic pain, menstrual problems, recurrent urinary tract infections, cysts and infertility. Some girls hemorrhage to death or die from infections. It can also cause fatal childbirth complications in later life.

Young age

As FGM is mostly carried out between infancy and age 15, school principal Louise Browning said she wanted the students to start learning about it in the third year, at about seven years old.

FGM can cause chronic pain, menstrual problems, recurrent urinary tract infections, cysts and infertility. Some girls hemorrhage to death or die from infections. It can also cause fatal childbirth complications in later life.
Representational image, pixabay

“I became more aware that FGM was happening to girls at a much younger age than I thought,” Browning told Reuters.

“Who’s to say that we don’t have survivors in our school? I felt I was letting down my girls by not raising this. Our end goal is for this practice to stop.”

Browning and her team worked with the National FGM Centre, run by children’s charity Barnado’s and the Local Government Association, to devise age-appropriate lessons, which they began teaching in Norbury School in 2015.

It is one of only a handful of primary schools in the country that teaches students about FGM, but raising awareness among parents and children was necessary, she said.

FGM mostly affects immigrant communities from various countries including Somalia, Sierra Leone, Eritrea, Sudan, Nigeria and Egypt — a demographic that is well-represented in the Harrow school.

“Many of our families, our children, come from FGM-practicing communities so it is really important that they have this knowledge, that they leave here at 11 [years old] knowing what this practice is about,” said pastoral manager Mathiason.

Shocking

FGM is performed by Muslims and Christians and by followers of some indigenous religions. People often believe FGM is required by religion, but it is not mentioned in the Koran or the Bible.

“Most people who do it think it’s in their religion … but no religion actually tells you to do that,” said 11-year-old Khadija, who has learned about FGM since she was seven.

“It’s just shocking because it’s most likely to be parents who would do it. They’re the ones who love you and care about you, but instead they want to harm you,” she added.

In March, a London solicitor accused of forcing his daughter to be circumcised was acquitted, increasing pressure on police and prosecutors who have yet to secure a conviction for FGM more than 30 years after it was outlawed.

The prosecution was only the second to be brought under FGM legislation introduced in 1985.

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FGM is underpinned by the desire to control female sexuality, but beliefs around the practice vary enormously. Many believe it purifies the girl, brings her status in the community and prevents promiscuity. Uncut girls risk being ostracized.

Sonita Pobi, head of training at the National FGM Center, said the lessons helped children make sense of the practice and know who to turn to for help, regardless of their cultural background or religion.

“It’s about giving children the vocabulary to speak up when something is wrong. It’s about making children aware about the hidden form of abuse that may happen to them,” Pobi said.

After learning about FGM at Norbury School, 11-year-old Oliver said he felt empowered to help classmates and friends.

“When I first learnt about it, I was quite scared because it was happening. But once I knew quite a bit about it, I knew that I couldn’t really sort out the situation, but I would know who to speak to,” he said.

His classmate Naylen, also 11, agreed.

“I think the FGM lessons are good for children to learn because … we could make a change to all of these harmful activities,” he said. (VOA)

 

Next Story

FGM is Embraced as a Traditional Practice in Indonesia: Research

Study: Indonesians Embrace Female Genital Mutilation as Religious, Traditional Practice

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INDONESIA FGM
Indonesian girls with their mother leaving a school-hall-turned-clinic after the daughters were circumcised in Bandung. The Indonesian government has come under fire after the UN General Assembly in November passed its first resolution condemning female genital mutilation (FGM) which more than 140 million women worldwide have been subjected to. Kania was later circumcised. VOA

By Nurhadi Sucahyo

With a knife, a razor blade, scissors or a needle, half of Indonesia’s girls are circumcised, and a new study found that it is a tradition more rooted in family folkways than religion.

“Cultural reproduction occurs in the household,” said Sri Purwatiningsih, a researcher of Center for Population and Policy Studies at Gajah Mada University in Yogyakarta. “Circumcised grandmothers tend to circumcise their daughter. A mother who was circumcised by the grandmothers will most likely circumcise their daughter.”

Purwatiningsih presented her findings Thursday, the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, at the university, where the center refers to the procedure as female genital mutilation or cutting.

Indonesia ranks third in the world, at 49%, for the rate of prevalence of female circumcision, after Mali, at 83%, and Mauritania, at 51%. According to an Indonesian Basic Health Research study from 2013, 51% of the nation’s girls up to the age of 11 have been circumcised. Among them, 72.4% were circumcised at between 1 and 5 months, 13.9% when they were between 1 and 4 years old, and 3.3% were 5 to 11 years old.

INDONESIA FGM
A man shows the logo of a T-shirt that reads “Stop the Cut” referring to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) during a social event advocating against harmful practices such as FGM at the Imbirikani Girls High School in Imbirikani, Kenya. VOA

UN definition

Female genital mutilation refers to “any procedure involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genitals for nonmedical reasons,” according to the United Nations Population Fund. The most widespread practices worldwide involve partial or total removal of the clitoris, prepuce, or both, and the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora. The UNPF found the practice is linked to child marriage and said it “predates rise of Christianity and Islam,” and was practiced as recently as the 1950s in Western Europe and the United States because a clitoridectomy was performed “to treat perceived ailments, including mental and sexual disorders.”

More than an estimated 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone female genital mutilation, and “the impacts on their health and well-being can be immediate — from infections, bleeding or psychological trauma — to chronic health conditions that can occur throughout life,” according to a U.N. release. It continued to say, “the cost of treating the total health impacts” of female genital mutilation is $1.4 billion globally per year.

“FGM is not only a catastrophic abuse of human rights that significantly harms the physical and mental health of millions of girls and women; it is also a drain on a country’s vital economic resources,” said Dr. Ian Askew, director of the World Health Organization’s Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research on a U.N. website.

Indonesian study

A survey focused on Indonesian girls and women, conducted by the Center for Population and Policy Studies in 2017, found 87.3% of 4,250 households in 10 provinces obtained female circumcision information from their parents. Of those surveyed, 92.7% said they believed the practice was primarily religious and 84.1% said the practice is also traditional. An overwhelming majority of respondents, 97.8%, approved of female circumcision, saying the tradition should be practiced.

The survey also found that traditional Indonesian birth attendants were responsible for 45% of female circumcisions, midwives or nurses conducted 38%, female circumcision specialists performed 10%, and doctors performed 1%.

Hamim Ilyas, a professor at the Faculty of Sharia and Law at Islamic National University Sunan Kalijaga in Yogyakarta told VOA Indonesia that only those who interpret Islam in the most literal way can find justification for female circumcision in its teachings.

He considers the best approach to the issue to be “state based,” meaning families should obey Indonesia’s laws. He used traffic lights as an example, religion never taught a person to stop at a red light, but the signal represents a law that drivers know to obey.

“The minister of health’s regulation has forbidden FGM. … However, the government seems to be hesitant under pressure,” from fundamentalist sectors of Indonesian society, he said. “If the government is determined, if the government is brave, the practice can be eradicated. But the government seems not ready yet [to enforce the law] because the people are not ready yet. We have to change our society, to be a society that anti-FGM. It is through the transformation of religious understanding — not [by] changing the teaching, but changing the understanding of it.”

INDONESIA FGM
Indonesian doctor preparing to circumcise a female child in Bandung. VOA

Indonesian law

Ika Ayu, an activist at the Jaringan Perempuan Yogyakarta, or Yogyakarta Female Network, criticized the government’s indecisiveness on FGM, as even Majelis Ulama Indonesia, the country’s top Muslim clerical body, rejected the practice in 2008.

Despite the Ministry of Health regulations, she said, “The government has not ever been clear in regulating FGM, while we know FGM has been listed as harmful practice as part of [the U.N.’s] Sustainable Development Goals.”

She urged the government to be more decisive and added, “Today, we commemorate zero tolerance for female genital mutilation, but in practice, it is still being done. We should ask, ‘How can a country guarantee the fulfillment of every citizen’s rights?’ Female circumcision violates individual rights because it was done without the girls’ consent.”

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Dr. Mukhotib, a reproductive health activist who, like many Indonesians uses only one name, told VOA that the many reasons to reject female circumcision include the fact that it has no medical benefit, countering traditional beliefs.

“There is no benefit to FGM. It does not make women healthier,” he said. “If there is no medical benefit, why bother?” (VOA)