As the world celebrated International Women’s Day on 8th March, to mark the accomplishments of women this year, some men and women in Pakistan and India joined an online campaign to put an end to the female genital mutilation (FGM). Traditionally known as khatna, female circumcision, a ritual of cutting all or some external female genital parts, is practiced among the Shi’ite Bohra community in Pakistan. Uproar was created in the neighboring country after an Australian court convicted a Bohra family of committing the heinous crime. However the scenario in Pakistan is quite different as it is considered as a practice and not an issue that can be solved and hence has never been alarming to any NGO, INGO, UN agency, and the Government of Pakistan. Apart from the 2006 National Plan of Action for Children plan to end harmful customary practices, there has been no other policy or law undertaken by the government of Pakistan to curb the immoral act.
Farah Zahidi Moazzam, a Pakistani journalist. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), FGM/C “includes procedures that intentionally alter or injure female genital organs for non-medical reasons”. Female circumcision, can cause serious physical, sexual and psychological problems along with complications like urinary tract infections, infertility and scarring. The sad truth is that since generations the practice is carried out by women on women, in most of the cases their own mothers. Considering that the Bohra community is a well knit community, any kind of opposition can lead to social exclusion which can have serious consequences for their business and family.
Defenders, who prefer to not talk about FGM in public, argue that it is only a symbolic gesture and with growing awareness, certified doctors carry out the procedure which is less dangerous. Dr Zahra Ali of the Bohra community says it does not harm the woman physically or in terms of her libido. However mentally it can have long term repercussions. Asma Pal, a counselor, feels “More than the act itself, the method adopted could cause serious psychological damage. A seven-year-old will retain the memory of being accosted literally and violated, which can result in long-standing physical intimacy issues.” Also a child, the girls cannot show much resistance and it is easy to force them into such practices.
The December 2011 issue of popular Indian weekly, ‘Outlook’, mentions that “most Bohra women and men even today would rather keep this practice a secret rather than question a custom that is now universally seen as a gross violation of a woman’s body.”