Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia without using anesthesia, performed in a surgery under unsanitary conditions and without the approval of specialized medical authorities. It causes physical, mental and sexual diseases and may lead to death. FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of human rights.
“Unless urgent action is taken, two million more girls will undergo female genital mutilation by 2030,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tweeted. “We have no time to waste. Let’s unite, fund and act to end FGM—a horrible practice and terrible human rights violation,” he added.
According to the UN’s estimations, at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of FGM. Girls 14 and younger represent 44 million of those who have been cut, it added, noting that the practice is ubiquitous in countries like Somalia, Sudan, Guinea, Djibouti, Egypt and others.
This custom is mainly carried out in Africa and the Middle East region, according to international statistics. However, Egypt and Sudan have recently ratified a law criminalizing the act and considering it a crime against women.
Women’s rights activists saw this step as a turning point to attain women’s rights in Africa.
Egypt’s cabinet had approved a law imposing a five to seven year prison sentence on those who perform the FGM surgery. But the death of a young girl, Nada, while undergoing the surgery has again shed light on the phenomenon.
Nearly 92 percent of Egyptian women and girls aged 15 to 49 have undergone FGM, according to reports published in 2014.
Egyptian activist and feminist writer Nawal Saadawi struggled throughout her life to fight FGM. She conducted studies and published several books to curb this practice, which led to its criminalization in Egypt in 2008.
Sudan issued a law criminalizing the practice, with a penalty of up to three years in prison and a fine.
According to the law’s provisions, “there shall be deemed to commit the offence of female genital mutilation whoever, removed, mutilated the female genitalia by cutting, mutilating or modifying any natural part of it leading to the full or partial loss of its functions, whether it is inside a hospital, health center, dispensary or clinic or other places.”
“Whoever commits the crime of female genital mutilation shall be punished with three years’ imprisonment and a fine or closing the premises.” Nine out of 10 women in Sudan are subjected to this crime.
Meanwhile, Iranian authorities remain silent and do nothing to curb the continuance of this practice for security reasons. They fear the eruption of protest movements in the border areas and the resentment of some sects. Therefore, the suffering of girls and women in some Iranian areas continues unabated.
Many people across the globe have been working to halt this profound suffering. Iranian writer and PhD sociology student at Anadolu University, Rayehe Mozafarian, launched the “Stop FGM Iran” campaign and published a book titled “Razor and Tradition.”
She is one of the activists in the fight against FGM and carries out many activities to curb this practice.
In an interview with Majalla, Mozafarian said FGM is still performed in the Kurdish regions, such as Kurdistan, Kermanshah, West Azerbaijan and areas south of Iran, such as Hormozgan province. However, she said the practice is certainly not taking place in other areas, such as Bushehr, Balochistan, Khuzestan, Lorestan and Golestan.
Mozafarian said she co-wrote an article with two of her colleagues, in which they pointed out that the FGM has been recently practiced in different forms.
“It was practiced in minority areas, such as Lak in western Iran, but it no longer exists there,” she said, adding that women over 60 years old had undergone FGM and are still alive. She further noted that the tools and methods of the operation have now changed in that region.
Women’s genital plastic surgery, which is very popular in the country, is now confused with the FGM in some rural areas. This means that FGM may not be very widespread in Iran, she stressed.
Mozafarian also pointed out that that FGM operations were rife in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, yet efforts made by the “Wadi” non-governmental organization to curb the practice led to its banning in 2011, especially in Erbil, Sulaymaniyah, Halabja, Garmian, Raniyah and Kirkuk.
In response to a question about the countries in which this practice is widespread, the activist divided the countries into two groups.
The first includes countries in which this practice endures by virtue of customs and traditions, while the second includes countries where this practice started to increase due to the high rate of immigrants, such as Australia and some European countries.
“According to reports, this practice is still prevalent in countries such as the Sultanate of Oman, Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates and India as a tradition.”
The World Health Organization classifies world countries according to the prevalence of FGM in them.
Mozafarian pointed out that this operation is conducted in some areas and by some communities living within certain countries. Yet, they are not included in international lists of states where the practice is common, such as Iraq, some Gulf States, post-Soviet countries and Georgia.
“Each country submits statistics on FGM to international organizations. They then announce the rate of this practice so that relevant international organizations provide support to them by allocating a specific budget or carrying out training workshops and providing services to fight the phenomenon,” she explained.
The practice is still widespread in some countries, such as parts of Iran, Iraq, the Sultanate of Oman and a number of Gulf countries.
“Some countries have not yet officially recognized the practice taking place on their territory and that FGM is a challenge that must be addressed,” she warned.
Commenting on the reasons behind its pervasiveness, Mozafarian said they are “different and numerous.” She cited an American young girl who underwent the surgery after her mother consulted a doctor because she had been practicing masturbation since her childhood.
Asked about the roots of FGM, Mozafarian said it dates back to ancient times, when it was a surgical procedure but was not mentioned in divine religions.
“However, residents of some areas claim the practice is accepted by some sects and religions, and therefore it is a legitimate operation.”
“This custom was practiced in Central Africa before it spread to Egypt for cultural reasons. For example, in ancient Egypt genital mutilation was performed on men who were about to become priests or on the males of the noble class,” she said, noting that the process was documented during Prophet Moses’ rule and thus opened the door to be practiced on men and women.
According to African legends, the practice first occurred in Central Africa for cultural reasons and was later passed on to the pharaohs. The tools used and the type of circumcision differed from one tribe to another as this practice determined the individual’s belonging to his tribe. Studies have proven that genital mutilation leads to a decrease in sexual desire for both women and men.
Metal chastity belts were worn to prevent sexual encounter or rape. FGM is attributed to Islam, but Al-Azhar scholars issued several fatwas prohibiting the practice.
“A large group of senior religious scholars believe that the origin of this practice is not Islamic, while another group believes that the FGM was a way for non-Muslims to enter Islam, but this theory is not scientifically proven.”
What prevented Iranian authorities from adopting policies to limit FGM?
“Our mission as women’s rights activists is to shed light on the FGM crime in Iran,” Mozafarian said. However, Iranian authorities fear it would tarnish the country’s reputation, being a civilization that dates back to thousands of years.
The Iranian regime claims this issue is internal and it would address the problem on its own, she stated, noting that relevant international institutions do not have much information and documents about FGM in Iran.
“Therefore, Iran is classified in the list of countries where this practice exists, but it is still unknown to what extent it is spread.”
Mozafarian sent a letter to Sunni Muftis in Iran in December 2018 inquiring about their opinion on FGM. They replied with a fatwa stating that this practice is illicit.
The practice “lacks any legal basis and the narrations that permit it are weak and cannot be relied upon,” the fatwa stated.
The FGM leads to immediate complications, which may include severe pain, excessive bleeding, depression, shock, fever, genital infections, menstrual problems, urinary problems, sexual problems, increased risk of childbirth complications, psychological problems and death.
In 2012, the UN General Assembly designated February 6th as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, with the aim to amplify and direct the efforts on the elimination of this practice.
Between 2015 and 2030, 68 million girls globally are at risk of FGM if efforts are not accelerated to end this harmful practice.