In Pakistan, we are accustomed to being asked to stay quiet any time we might say something which might hurt someone’s sensibilities even in the slightest. And because of this a lot of people remain unaware of some very important things.
But these are the very things we need to be able to talk openly about so that people are more aware of what’s going on and can have actual informed opinions.
Female circumcision or as it is referred to as female genital mutilation (FGM) for those who don’t know about the practice, is when a young girl’s external genitalia mainly the clitoral hood or clitoris is either entirely cut off or nicked for non-medical reasons.
In Pakistan, the Dawoodi Bohra and Sheedi communities are the ones known to practice this
The reason given for this practice by those who believe in it is that it is done for purity. And that circumcision has been ordained by religion for both men and women.
However, people who are against the practice have stated that the reasons for carrying out this practice are much sinister; to curb female sexuality. This is because the part of a woman’s genital which is cut off is the same part which provides women with a major part of their sexual pleasure. According to this school of thought, the practice was adopted so women do not stray from their husbands and remain loyal.
The practice is widespread in African countries such as Somalia, Ethiopia and Egypt. And is also practiced in the Middle East as well as Asia. But according to sources, the practice originated in Africa and was brought to Pakistan when communities migrated and settled in the region.
We reached out to women from the Bohra community to tell us more about the practice and what their personal experiences with it have been like.
And the opinions and experiences were extremely polarized; some women vehemently defend the practice and stand by it while some women are incredibly against it.
Some women talked about how they don’t even remember the procedure taking place and that it was done by trained medical professionals. And that the experience did not traumatize them at all and they do not feel it took away anything from them in the slightest.
The women in support of the practice talk about how the practice has a religious backing and is done solely for purity purposes, as what is known as ‘tahara‘ in Muslims.
While on the other end of the spectrum there are Bohri women who completely shun the practice and even refer to it as ‘barbaric’.
I spoke to a woman who had been through the procedure when she was 7 years old and told me should would never forget the horrible experience.
I’m keeping her identity private for her safety. She stated that the women who performed the procedure had not an ‘iota of medical knowledge’ and they used a pair of scissors to carry out the procedure. She talked about how she was too young to understand what had happened and all she understood was the physical pain she was in.
She said that the event traumatized her and she still remembers how she felt to this day. And when she became a mother to three girls herself, she made sure that her daughters would never go through something like this even though she was pressured by her family to have the procedure carried out. But since she believed it was not female circumcision but actually genital mutilation; she never went through with it and even encouraged other women in her family to follow suit.
Internationally, the practice is highly condemned with the UN even declaring February 9th as the International Day For Zero Tolerance For Female Genital Mutilation and has ending FGM as one of their 2030 goals. This is because doctors globally have condemned the practice as having no benefit and even adversely affecting women’s health.
But again, there are a lot of women who stand by the procedure and even some doctors who believe it does no harm to the patient and shouldn’t be an issue if it is carried out.
Currently, there is no legislation in Pakistan which addresses this issue thus it is not illegal here like it is in a lot of African and Western countries.
Did you know about this practice? Let us know what you think in the comments.
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Cover photo source: fitnaphobia.com