Fa says: A representative of the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry recently defended the practice of female circumcision in Malaysia as a “cultural obligation.”
Speaking at the Universal Periodic Review on human rights in Geneva, the representative claimed that female circumcision is not female genital mutilation, and stressed that the circumcision does not involve any cutting.
As a Muslim woman who has been circumcised as an infant, and one who had her own daughter circumcised as well, allow me to share my story.
I was circumcised before turning six months old. Although I have no recollection of the incident, I was informed of the ritual some nine years later, during the circumcision of my brother.
I remember asking my mother and the elderlies in our home why Muslims have to be circumcised.
“To make sure you are clean,” they said.
“Does that mean I am now clean?” I asked.
“No silly, boys are circumcised to make sure they are clean. Girls, on the other hand, are circumcised to make sure they grow up to be good girls,” they explained.
At that age, like many other things, their explanation did not make any sense – so I stopped asking questions.
Hold the baby’s legs apart
Twelve years down the road, I gave birth to a baby girl. I was young and naïve, and I depended on the elderlies in my family for guidance on the things that should be done in welcoming my firstborn.
Being a clueless young mother, the elderlies planned for my daughter to have her majlis cukur rambut (hair shaving ceremony) and aqiqah (animal sacrifice) when she reached 40 days old, followed by khitan (female circumcision).
I remember the day my ex-husband and I took our two-month-old baby to a private clinic in Gelugor for the circumcision. The doctor was a Muslim woman and from the way she spoke, I believed she had conducted such procedures many times before.
As I held my daughter, I asked the doctor if the procedure will cause any pain. She assured me that the only sensation my baby will experience is a mild prick.
The doctor then ordered my ex-husband to remove the diapers and to hold my baby’s tiny legs firmly apart while I continued hold her in my arms.
She then read a short prayer and using a needle, slightly slit the clitoral hood. I saw a few drops of blood followed by my daughter’s cry.
“That’s it. All done!” the doctor said with a big smile.
I never really understood why my daughter had to go through the ritual, except that every female in the family including myself had gone through it and as such it was customary for her to experience it too.
A decision that cannot be overturned
Anyway, after many years, on one fine evening, my daughter who was then 15, said something very interesting during a conversation about human rights.
“Do you know Ma, your decision to pierce my ears when I was five goes against human rights,” she said.
“Well technically, you are still a minor, so as a parent I get to decide for you,” I explained.
“Are you saying that parents who wish to tattoo their children’s face should be allowed to do so too?” she asked.
I bit my tongue. I didn’t know how to respond to that.
“If parents have full rights over a child, why is it when a child is abused by his or her parents, we call it a crime?” she insisted.
“You have a good point, young lady!” I told her.
While I kept my cool that very moment, I recalled many decisions I have made on my daughter’s behalf which denied her rights, especially decisions which, unlike her ear piercings, cannot be overturned – such as circumcision.
Misinformation and ignorance
That was the greatest point of realisation for me – that I had permanently scarred my daughter and there was no way of undoing it.
I remember when I wrote about my circumcision experience a couple of years ago for a news portal, my mother who read it, contacted me and apologised.
“Like you, I too was misinformed about female circumcision. I was told it was a religious obligation and that it will protect a female from having high sexual desire which could end up with sinful acts.
“If I had only known that female circumcision is merely a ritual which has no benefits whatsoever, I would have never agreed to have you circumcised and I would definitely stand against anyone wanting to have my granddaughter circumcised.”
It is too late for us to do anything about it now, for my mother, myself and my daughter, are all circumcised. But we can do something to make sure our younger generation do not end up being ignorant like us.
What are the views of the Ministry for Women?
Female circumcision does nothing to a Muslim female that could set her apart from an uncircumcised non-Muslim female.
A slit in the clitoral hood does not reduce a woman’s sexual desires. If it did, we would not be hearing of the many cases involving young Muslim females who are sexually active resulting in teen pregnancies and child dumping; or married Muslim females caught for khalwat (close proximity) for having affairs with men other than their husband.
I believe the women’s affairs minister and her deputy owe us a statement on their stand regarding female circumcision. Among the things I’d like to know are:
- Do they agree female circumcision is a form of ‘cultural obligation’?
- How far will they go to defend a ‘cultural obligation’ which brings no value to our society?
- Do they believe that female circumcision will protect Muslim women from becoming ‘wild’?
- Do they think female sexual desires need to be suppressed?
After all, if they are supportive of suppressing the sexual desires of Muslim women by approving female circumcision in our country, why are they not against the many products manufactured by Malay-Bumiputera companies such as supplements, herbal drinks and traditional medicines which promote high sexual drives for women that are easily available over the counter in our country?
For what it’s worth, female circumcision in my family stops with my daughter.
My future granddaughters and my children’s granddaughters will not have their clitoral hood pricked and their rights denied.
This article was reprinted with Fa’s permission. It first appeared here.
(The views expressed are those of the contributor)
FA ABDUL is a passionate storyteller, a growing media trainer, an aspiring playwright, a regular director, a struggling producer, a self-acclaimed photographer, an expert Facebooker, a lazy blogger, a part-time queen and a full-time vainpot.