What is it like to have undergone female genital mutilation ? #Vaw #FGM #Womenrights


Out in the open

What is it like to have undergone female genital mutilation, asks NID student’s film

Jyoti Punwani mirrorfeedback@timesgroup.com

When a 24-year-old student of film and video communication at the National Institute of Design (NID) in Ahmedabad received a special mention at the 60th National Film Awards, it was for showing nerve.
Although devoid of sting operations and hidden cameras, Priya Goswami’s 27-minute documentary goes where no one has. In A Pinch of Skin, the young filmmaker gets a string of women to openly share the horror of female genital mutilation (FGM), a practice so secretive, often brothers aren’t aware their sisters have undergone it. The one-million strong community of Dawoodi Bohras, a sect of Ismaili Shias concentrated in trade-focused centres of Maharashtra and Gujarat, carry out the practice citing ‘faith’ as reason, although Islamic scholars say Islam doesn’t sanction it.
The World Health Organisation defines FGM as all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organ for nonmedical reasons. The procedure, according to the WHO website, holds no health benefits for women, and consequences can range from severe bleeding and infection to complications in childbirth. About 140 million girls and women worldwide livewith the consequences of FGM.
Unlike male circumcision, khatna as FGM is called locally, is carried out in secrecy by senior women of the community using blades without medical supervision on seven-year-olds, who the film says are “old enough to remember”. The logic is this: as adults, the girls will practice the ceremony on their children, and since they are pre-adolescent at seven, they are unlikely to suffer severe physiological damage.
That Goswami managed to get the women to talk — albeit without revealing their identity — despite being an outsider, is remarkable. It’s also reflected in the approach she chooses; the community becomes irrelevant. It’s the practice and belief she chooses to focus on, as is evident from her statement at the start of the film: For this film, I have no religion nor am I born into any community. All I know is that I am just a woman and that is my only identity.’
Goswami’s interviewees tell her the aim of khatna is simple —to curb “the urge” in women. Satisfied with their husbands, the women are unlikely to seek pleasure outside the marriage.
A young interviewee admits to Goswami that unlike her friends, she isn’t terribly attracted to men. Another articulate woman, angry that a part of her body was removed without explanation or permission, remains silent when asked if circumcision is aimed at denying women orgasm. “Ask the priests,’’ she finally says.
Intercourse is painful, a third admits. “I guess it is so for all women.”
And so, Goswami succeeds in starting a conversation on the practice within the community. She says it amazed her that women themselves justify the practice and have made peace with it. The term used for the clitoris by the women — “haraami boti’’ — reveals a deep-seated revulsion towards their own anatomy and sexuality. This is hardly community-specific, Goswami observes. “Don’t our grandmothers say, women are the root of all trouble?” she asks. “Don’t we banish young widows to Brindavan?”
Although the filmmaker interviewed men, she chose to leave them out of the film. “I wished to depict the practice as one done on women by women, although instituted by patriarchy.’’
Goswami’s film includes strong voices of dissent, although they are outnumbered. A mother who decided to skip the tradition when it came to her own daughters admits she kept her act of defiance a secret. If the film encourages more women to speak out, Goswami says her efforts will be worth it.
The film will be screened at the Al Jazeera International Documentary Festival in April.

In a still from the film, the interviewee masks her identity while talking about her experience of female genital mutilation

 

 

Denial of abortion is “torture,” says United Nations report #Vaw #reproductiverights


Special Rapporteur on torture Juan E. Méndez. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

report recently presented to the United Nations (PDF link) says that a denial of abortion can be considered torture, in line with actual methods of female torture such as female genital mutilation.

ultrasoundThe report by Juan E. Méndez, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, is cited as a report “on certain forms of abuses in health-care settings that may cross a threshold of mistreatment that is tantamount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

Méndez, a visiting professor at American University’s law school, makes some bold statements in Section B, entitled “Reproductive rights violations.” His assertions show just how far the quest for abortion has come in the world – to a point where the torture of a baby ripped from the womb and sucked away and thrown into a medical incinerator is considered a human right that spares someone else from torture.

Section 46 of his report notes:

International and regional human rights bodies have begun to recognize that abuse and mistreatment of women seeking reproductive health services can cause tremendous and lasting physical and emotional suffering, inflicted on the basis of gender.  Examples of such violations include abusive treatment and humiliation in institutional settings;   involuntary sterilization; denial of legally available health services  such as abortion and post-abortion care; forced abortions and sterilizations; female genital mutilation[.]

To compare involuntary sterilization and female genital mutilation – permanent methods of actual torture – with the denial of a “right” to take another life is tragic. In fact, it doesn’t actually line up with the U.N.’s own statements.

The U.N.’s Committee against Torture defines torture in its Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and it actually reads more like a pro-life statement in its language:

Considering that, in accordance with the principles proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations, recognition of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Recognizing that those rights derive from the inherent dignity of the human person …

The U.N. then goes on to define what torture is:

Article 1

1. For the purposes of this Convention, the term “torture” means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.

Clearly the U.N.’s version of torture doesn’t seem to allow for the killing of a baby in utero, but Méndez does. Though many current exceptions to abortion laws note that “mental suffering” is justification for that exception and include it as a health reason to have an abortion, the comparison of who suffers more, a woman who carries a baby to term and gives the baby up for adoption or the one who lives forever with the reality of choosing to kill her baby, cannot adequately be evaluated by one man making a report to the United Nations.

While it would be wrong to assume that a woman carrying a child she is not prepared to raise would not be painful, it is also wrong to call it torture. Torture would be punishing her for the pregnancy or forcing her to raise a child she isn’t prepared to raise. However, the real torture is inflicted on the baby in her womb, who will be sucked out and discarded if that abortion happens.

Méndez goes on to note that:

For many rape survivors, access to a safe abortion procedure is made virtually impossible by a maze of administrative hurdles, and by official negligence and obstruction. In the landmark decision of K.N.L.H. v. Peru, the Human Rights Committee deemed the denial of a therapeutic abortion a violation of the individual’s right to be free from ill- treatment. In the case of P. and S. v. Poland, ECHR stated that “the general stigma attached to abortion and to sexual violence …, caus[ed] much distress and suffering, both physically and mentally.”

It’s unquestionable that a rape survivor who gets pregnant (notably, this is about 1% of all rape victims, so not a majority of those seeking abortions, though a valid minority) needs great care. The tragedy inflicted on her must be handled well, but the torture has come from the rapist, not from the denial of taking another life. Our torment should never allow us the right to kill another. A culture that seeks to nurture and care for victims of torture needs to put its focus on caring for the victim, giving resources, and providing many other solutions that will help heal the tragedy by giving a woman lasting comfort to the effect that she has helped to redeem a tragedy, not to create another.

Méndez is insistent that denial of abortion is torture, though, for all cases. He says in section 50:

The Committee against Torture has repeatedly expressed concerns about restrictions on access to abortion and about absolute bans on abortion as violating the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment. On numerous occasions United Nations bodies have expressed concern about the denial of or conditional access to post-abortion care. often for the impermissible purposes of punishment or to elicit confession.  The Human Rights Committee explicitly stated that breaches of article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights include forced abortion, as well as denial of access to safe abortions to women who have become pregnant as a result of rape and raised concerns about obstacles to abortion where it is legal.

Here forced abortions are presented as on par with denial of abortion. But the fact is, they are not. A forced abortion takes a life, and the denial of abortion saves one. A forced abortion can never be undone. A woman is subjected to the horror of having her body violated (possibly a second time, if she was a victim of rape), and knowing life has been taken from her. Denying someone a right to have a life taken is not torture; it’s a basic human right for the unborn life.

By all accounts, Méndez would consider the North Dakota legislature torturers for deciding that life begins at conception. He would consider Kansas and Arkansas as inflicting torture for passing laws that protect life. However, denying abortion isn’t torture, because the motive isn’t torment; the motive isn’t to make someone suffer, but to prevent the suffering of the baby destroyed and of the mother, who will have to live with it.

The extra tragedy in this culture of death is that we have walked forward into the past, where we justify death as a merciful thing, when truly it brings destruction. Méndez has stretched the definitions to a point that distorts them and, in the process, manages to reduce the true suffering of victims of such horrific crimes as female genital mutilation to the level of carrying a living baby to term. Protecting life can never be equated with killing it.

 

 

Egypt women’s NGO takes pro-FGM Parliamentarian to court


 | 4 May 2012

Egypt MP Azza el-Garf publicly supports FGM, and is being sued by a local women’s org.

Egypt’s New Women Foundation said they are suing Islamist Parliament member Azza al-Garf over her pro-female genitals mutilation (FGM) statements. The women’s rights foundation sent a letter to the speaker of parliament Saad al-Katatny, informing him of legally going after Garf and asking for his permission to be allowed to take the MP to court.

The parliament needs to lift immunity for an MP in order for them to be held accountable in a court of law.

Garf was reported saying that FGM is an Islamic practice and that the anti-FGM laws should be amended. Garf is a Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) member, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

“We are on our way to sue Garf to preserve our rights and the gains of Egyptian women,” said the open letter to the speaker.

“We are suing her for going against Egyptian laws that criminalize sexual harassment and FGM, practices that goes against women rights and human rights.

“We completely refuse Garf’s statements and announce that she does not represent us.”

Garf gave similar statements on her Twitter account last month, calling for lifting the laws that criminalize FGM. The statements stirred criticism, which led to the FJP to announce that Garf has no account on Twitter and no comments were made by Garf herself.

Rights surveys in the country put the number of women who go through FGM to be around 86 percent. Current Egyptian law bans the practice and gives prison sentences to any medical staff who performs the surgery. However, many families go to underground clinics to get their daughters the procedure, risking permanent scares or even death.

In 2010, a 13-year-old girl died after a local doctor in the Nile Delta region’s Menoufiya governorate failed in the operation.

Local media said the doctor was arrested soon after when an unknown good Samaritan phoned a hotline service set up to report on female genital mutilation incidents.

The doctor, whose name was not revealed in local media reports of the incident, is to stand trial for the illegal operation that led to the girl’s death.

In June 2007, 12-year-old Badour Shakour died as a result of a circumcision operation. The death sparked a battle within the country over the use of the controversial medical procedure. Her death galvanized women and children’s rights groups to action, where they pushed for more stringent penalties against those who carry out female genital mutilation.

The tweets Garf made supporting FGM.

Shakour’s cause of death was an overdose of anesthetic, but her memory was the cause of an awakening that reached to the upper echelons of government.

In summer 2008, Egypt’s Parliament passed a law that ostensibly bans the controversial procedure. Not that it should have needed to legislate against FGM – it was already officially banned in the country during the mid-nineties – but with doctors continuing to perform the procedure on girls as young as five, Parliament felt it was necessary to intercede.

The new law stipulates a fine of 1,000 Egyptian pounds ($185) to 5,000 Egyptian pounds ($900) and a prison term of anywhere between three months and two years if caught performing FGM.

A doctor also could lose their medical license. In the case of Shakour, the doctor who performed the procedure languishes in prison after being convicted of manslaughter.

BM

100,000 women undergo genital mutilation in Britain and some are 10 -year-olds


London, April 23 2012,  by Pamela Owen, Dalily Mail

As many as 100,000 women in Britain have undergone female genital mutilations with medics in the UK offering to carry out the illegal procedure on girls as young as 10, it has been reported.

Investigators from The Sunday Times said they secretly filmed a doctor, dentist and alternative medicine practitioner who were allegedly willing to perform circumcisions or arrange for the operation to be carried out.

The doctor and dentist deny any wrongdoing.

The practice, which involves the surgical removal of external genitalia and in some cases the stitching of the vaginal opening, is illegal in Britain and carries up to a 14 year prison sentence.

It is also against the law to arrange FGM.

Cases of Female Genital Mutilation are increasing across the UK but not one person has been prosecuted for any offencesCases of Female Genital Mutilation are increasing across the UK but not one person has been prosecuted for any offences

Known as ‘cutting’, the procedure is traditionally carried out for cultural reasons and in Africa and with large numbers of immigration from countries like Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia it is becoming more common in the UK.

It is believed to be proof of a girl’s ‘purity’ for when she marries, but victims often suffer in silence and are rarely given anaesthetic.

They frequently suffer long-term damage and pain and often struggle to stand or walk properly.

Supermodel turned UN ambassador Waris Dirie was mutilated aged 5Supermodel turned UN ambassador Waris Dirie was mutilated aged 5

Research suggests that every year up to 6,000 girls in London are at risk of the potentially fatal procedure, and more than 22,000 in the UK as a whole.

The Metropolitan Police said since 2008, it had received 166 reports of people who fear they are at risk of FGM but it has failed to bring forward a single perpetrator.

It is the same for all 43 forces across England and Wales with no convictions for the offence ever taking place.

Only two doctors have ever been struck off by The General Medical Council since 1980.

The Sunday Times uncovered a respected dentist who was prepared to circumcise two girls, aged 10 and 13 and a GP who referred an undercover reporter to the dentist.

They also spoke to a supplier who deals in alternative medicine who offered to circumcise a 10 year-old girl for £750.

A midwife in Birmingham also said she had seen the number of mutilations in the area treble since 2002.

Alison Byrne, a specialist midwife at the Birmingham’s Heartlands hospital who has helped pioneer treatment for women suffering from the condition said she has had patients aged between 16 and 40.

She said she had some women who had been left with an opening the size of a matchstick through which to pass urine and menstrual blood.

Ms Byrne added that as a result many of the women developed severe infections and can continuously bleed for days on end.

Journalist who wrote about female genital mutilation (FGM) forced into hiding


Source: Gulf News | AFP

A Liberian journalist says she has been forced into hiding after lifting the lid on initiation rituals, including genital mutilation, by a secretive women’s society.

Mae Azango, a reporter with Liberian daily Front Page Africa, published a story on March 8 in which a woman recounted how when she was a child she was held down and had part of her genitalia sliced off by members of the Sande Society.

The society is an initiation school where women and girls are sent to be circumcised and groomed to be prepared for marriage, as culture and tradition demand in the west African state, Azango wrote.

Azango’s story was illustrated with pictures of initiated teenage girls emerging from the bush.

“A few days after I published the story, I received calls, anonymous calls, and women telling me that I have exposed their secret and I am going to pay the price,” Azango told AFP in an interview from a secret location. “I was only doing my job, now I am in trouble.”

Azango said the punishment for exposing the secrets of the women’s initiation society was to be forced to undergo the ritual “whether you like it or not”.

“They have been hunting for me for weeks now. They have gone to my working area, they have been going to my house, and the worst of all is that they have attempted getting my daughter to have her initiated by force,” she said.

International media organisations and NGOs have called on government to step in, a difficult task for the regime as courts have no say in the matter. “The court cannot do anything in this case. It is part of the customary law so it is beyond the control of the judiciary,” said Liberian lawyer Emmanuel Capeheart.

“It is the law of the traditional people. Once you have violated it they can deal with you and the law cannot help you. If these women get Mae, they can carry her to the bush and she will stay there the longest, no one can go there to help.”

The powerful secret societies, called Poro for men and Sande for women, are spread throughout west Africa. “Poro and Sande are responsible for supervising and regulating the sexual, social, and political conduct of all members of the wider society,” according to the book Anthropology: What Does It Mean To Be Human by Robert Lavenda and Emily Schultz.

In a chapter on west African secret societies they say top members “impersonate important supernatural figures by donning masks and performing in public”.

Girls taking part are bound to secrecy about what takes place during the initiation, making speaking about the societies extremely difficult. The woman in Azango’s article, now aged 47, was forced to undergo initiation at 13 because of a crime committed by her mother in 1976.

FGM is rampant

Azango reported that 10 of Liberia‘s 16 tribes practice female circumcision. “In Liberia, the female genital mutilation (FGM) is rampant and at the same time an open secret,” said sociologist Emmanuel Ralph.

“Almost all the tribes in Liberia are involved in this practice. I know that this could be somehow strange to the western world but this is part of the African tradition. The government is afraid of touching the interest of traditionalists.”

Information Minister Lewis Brown told AFP that the government had launched an investigation. “The government’s attention has been seriously drawn to the report of threat against Miss Mae Azango… the director of police has been instructed to protect the journalist who is daily in contact with the police.”

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is facing pressure on taboo issues such as female genital mutilation and homosexuality – especially after winning the Nobel Peace Prize last year. “We find it troubling that Liberia, boasting Africa’s first female head, remains muted on the issue engulfed in controversy,” Azango’s newspaper Front Page Africa said in an editorial.

“We hope that the debate emerging out of reporter Azango’s report will push government and society as a whole to educate the uninformed public about the dangers and risks involved.”

The World Health Organisation estimates that some 92 million girls aged 10 and above in Africa have undergone FGM, which can involve partial or total removal of the genitalia for various cultural, religious and social reasons.

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