This article from the New York Times also put me right off my breakfast this morning. It’s a report from a centre in Indonesia that offers free female circumcisions. That’s right girls, get your free clitoridectomy here!
Sponsored by the Assalaam Foundation, an Islamic educational and social-services organization, circumcisions take place in a prayer center or an emptied-out elementary-school classroom where desks are pushed together and covered with sheets and a pillow to serve as makeshift beds. The procedure takes several minutes. There is little blood involved. Afterward, the girl’s genital area is swabbed with the antiseptic Betadine. She is then helped back into her underwear and returned to a waiting area, where she’s given a small, celebratory gift — some fruit or a donated piece of clothing — and offered a cup of milk for refreshment. She has now joined a quiet majority in Indonesia, where, according to a 2003 study by the Population Council, an international research group, 96 percent of families surveyed reported that their daughters had undergone some form of circumcision by the time they reached 14.
It is absolutely worth mentioning that FGM is not a “Muslim problem” at all – it is a tradition that is practised by Christian, Muslim and non-religious communities, and has been condemned by many Islamic leaders. A pity that the NY Times didn’t see fit to point this out.
According to Lukman Hakim, the foundation’s chairman of social services, there are three “benefits” to circumcising girls.
“One, it will stabilize her libido,” he said through an interpreter. “Two, it will make a woman look more beautiful in the eyes of her husband. And three, it will balance her psychology.”
FGM is one of the most horrendous atrocities in the world. The most common arguments I’ve heard for not intervening are 1 – What about male circumcision then? If you feminists want equality, what are you doing about that? and 2 – Rah rah rah, cultural imperialism, rah rah.
FGM has very little in common with male circumcision. Whether or not you believe that male circumcision is right, a circumcised man can still function sexually. As The NY Times points out, 80% of female circumcisions involve the removal of the clitoris and labia, drastically reducing the amount of sexual pleasure the girl will ever be able to feel. Male circumcisions are not performed with the express intent of “taming” or “tempering” libido, or of making the victims “more attractive to their wives” or of preventing them from having extra-marital affairs by making sex at best not as much fun as it should be and at worst painful. The intent behind FGM and the method of execution make it completely incomparable with male circumcision.
As for the cultural imperialism argument, I’m all for letting other cultures get on with their traditions, but this just has to stop. Children are being mutilated. Women are dying needlessly in childbirth. If believing that this should end makes me an insensitive racist, then so be it.