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“Female circumcision”: what is it, why are girls circumcised?

Female genital mutilation is damage to a woman’s genitals for non-medical purposes. This practice has been recognized as a violation of human rights, but, according to WHO, it underwent more than 200 million girls around the world. According to the UN Population Fund, if the practice of female genital mutilation continues at the same level, their number from 2015 to 2030 will amount to 68 million.

Such operations, according to the WHO classification, are divided into three types. Clitoridectomy is the complete or partial removal of the clitoris. Excision – complete or partial removal of the clitoris and labia minora. Infibulation, also sometimes called “pharaoh circumcision”, is the most radical type: cutting and changing the labia majora and labia majora. Often with this type, the flesh is stitched together. There are other forms of damage.

According to obstetrician-gynecologist and sexologist Tamara Maltseva, in general, any intervention that worsens the quality of life can be attributed to mutilation. Sometimes clitoroplasty may have a medical rationale – for example, with a strong increase in the head of the clitoris. But the operation will be justified only if it causes an inconvenience that needs to be corrected.

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At the same time, Maltseva emphasizes: “Male circumcision cannot be called crippling: it reduces the risk of cancer and inflammatory processes. But “circumcision” in girls does not bring any benefit. ” For this reason, the very name “female circumcision” is considered not entirely correct. All over the world, this type of surgery is described by the term “female genital mutilation” (abbreviated as FGM).

Data on where FGM is practiced is incomplete due to the complexity of collecting statistics. By data The United Nations most often carries out mutilation operations in countries in Africa and the Middle East, as well as in some countries in Asia and Latin America, although 24 of them have laws against this practice. Such operations are also carried out in Russia – according to the organization “Legal Initiative” (included in the register of foreign agents), every year in the North Caucasus victims become more than 1240 girls.

Tradition and control

Answering the question of why “female circumcision” is being performed, a sociologist, candidate of political sciences, president of the Center for Research on Global Issues of Modernity and Regional Problems, Saida Sirazhudinova, says that most often the motive is religion, adherence to traditions, or a rite of initiation.

Often “female circumcision” associated with Islam, even among the Muslims themselves. “All Muslim women should do. Without this, one cannot become a Muslim. It is necessary. This is Sunnah “- is talking one of the respondents to a study on mutilation in the North Caucasus, conducted by the Legal Initiative. In fact, mutilation is not directly related to this religion. About them not mentioned in the Qur’an, and Islamic law schools consider it a recommended but optional practice.

V report Female Circumcision: Between Misuse of Science and Misinterpretation of Doctrine, prepared by the UNICEF-sponsored International Islamic Center for Population Research, states the following: medical science. Therefore, at a time when medical science was dominated by the opinion about the benefits [таких] operations, Muslim jurists declared them a macram (virtuous deed). The word macramah does not imply that it is a religious duty (wagib) or a practice recommended by the Prophet (sunnah); rather, it is something like a habit that has been influenced at different times by the knowledge and understanding of people. ” By the way, the authors note that the discussion is new: the question of what is “female circumcision” from the point of view of Islam, was raised in religious magazines back in the 1940s-1950s.

Sometimes girls are circumcised as part of a tradition. Indeed, in a number of cultures, such interventions are part of the rite of passage into adulthood. And those who have not done this practice are considered “unhealthy” and “unworthy.” So, in Sierra Leone, where, according to UNICEF for 2017, through an operation passed approximately 86% of women and girls, FGM is an “Pass” to the secret female society Bondo… Its elders, the Soviets, are the main opponents of abandoning this tradition.

Mutilation is also a form of control over a woman and her sexuality. In societies where the clitoris is considered the source of a woman’s sexual desire, its damage or removal designed to limit a woman’s sexual activity and make her less demanding in marriage. So, in 2016, the mufti of the North Caucasus Ismail Berdiev statedthat such operations are needed because “it is necessary to reduce them (women. – Forbes Woman) sexuality “:” There would be less debauchery. ”

Sometimes the operation can be performed at the request of the woman if she has an increased sensitivity of the head of the clitoris. Then, in situations not related to sexual intercourse, when walking or sitting, constant excitement may occur, which rather interferes.

There are also reverse situations. “Such operations include the removal of the clitoral hood to enhance sensitivity,” says Tamara Maltseva. – But this is also a dubious procedure, since most often a woman goes to it from ignorance of anatomy. If you tell a woman how her body functions, then, most likely, surgical intervention will not be required. ”

Finally, such an operation, albeit infrequently, but spend as part of vulvar cancer treatment or as part of a transgender transition.

(Non) sterile conditions

According to Sirazhudinova, most of these interventions are performed at home, by women without medical education, but the parents of girls can also contact local gynecologists or midwives. By data UN, every fifth mutilation operation is performed by medical workers. Most often doctors spend such operations in Egypt (38%), Sudan (67%), Kenya (15%), Nigeria (13%) and Guinea (15%).

In 2018, Meduza (included in the register of foreign agents) published investigation, in which she spoke about a Moscow clinic, which performed “female circumcision for girls under 12 for religious reasons.” After the publication, the description of the service and prices disappeared from the clinic’s website.

This phenomenon is called the medicalization of FGM and is a serious concern for human rights defenders. It is clear why: medicalization creates the impression that under certain conditions such an operation can be safe, and gives it legitimacy. “However, FGM can never be safe and there is no medical justification for the practice. Even if the procedure is performed under sterile conditions by a physician, there is a risk of health consequences – immediate and later in life. In all circumstances, FGM violates the right to health, the right to be free from violence, the right to life and physical integrity, the right to non-discrimination and the right to be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, ”- it says in a note from the United Nations Population Fund.

Pain and self-loathing

Genital mutilation has many negative physical and mental health consequences. First, the surgery itself, especially if it is performed in unsanitary conditions and without anesthesia, can lead to painful shock and infection. The media regularly report the deaths of such operations: in 2021 died 13-year-old Somali, 12-year-old in 2020 Egyptian, in 2018 – 10-year resident Sierra Leone, and these are just the cases that have gone public.

Secondly, as a result of the operation, the normal functioning of the pelvic organs may be disrupted. “Cicatricial deformity and persistent pain at the incision site may develop,” explains Tatiana Maltseva. Somali survivor of infibulation tellswhat it looks like trying to go to the toilet after surgery: “The first time you notice that your physiology has changed is when you urinate. An open wound rubbed with salt or hot chilli – this is the feeling … Urine comes out drop by drop, and each next one is more difficult than the previous one. It takes four or five minutes – and all these four or five minutes you are in terrible pain. “

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Finally, damage to the clitoris results in loss its sensitivity and ability to have an orgasm, which significantly reduces the quality of a woman’s life.

This is not the only long-term consequence of FGM. According to Maltseva, such consequences can be very different – from self-dislike, fear of touching and post-traumatic syndrome to psychosomatic and gynecological diseases.

Laws, rituals, complaints

The topic of female genital mutilation has long remained a taboo, because it is associated with the personal, intimate life of girls. Even the victims themselves do not talk about it, which makes it difficult to compile statistics and provide all the necessary assistance. The situation is even worse in those societies where knowledge about sexuality and reproductive health remains low, and conversations on these topics are prohibited as “shameful”, “dirty” and “indecent”.

Nonetheless, human rights organizations and governments are fighting this practice. In 2012, the UN General Assembly accepted resolution against mutilation. Laws against them developed in more than 20 countries in Africa, UK, Australia, Colombia, Italy, Portugal and the USA.

At the same time, experts working “on the ground” talk about the importance of a respectful, non-stigmatizing approach to working with communities in which FGM is perceived as part of a tradition, otherwise the propaganda of rejection of FGM may be perceived with hostility. An example is Kenya, where since the late 1990s gained popularity so-called alternative rites of passage: they mimic the traditional ritual of initiation, but exclude physical damage.

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Saida Sirazhudinova says that Russia is not fighting this practice in any way. It is either ignored or considered part of local traditions, in which no one wants to interfere: “Society either supports the practice, or simply does not know about it. And in general they can be understood – it is not very pleasant to think about such things, especially when it does not concern you. But there are also those who are outraged and speak very negatively about this ”.

In November of this year, the European Court of Human Rights for the first time registered a complaint in the case of “female genital mutilation” from Russia. This incident took place in Ingushetia in 2019, when a girl was forcibly taken to a mutilation operation without informing her mother. On the way home, the child started bleeding. Now the pediatric gynecologist Izana Nalgieva, who performed the operation, faces up to four months of arrest, a fine of up to 40,000 rubles, or up to a year of correctional labor.

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