|Clit Removal in Indonesia
New York Times Magazine / January 20, 2008
By SARA CORBETT
When a girl is taken to a free circumcision event held each spring in
Bandung, Indonesia, she is handed over to a small group of women
who, swiftly and yet with apparent affection, cut off a small piece of her
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.
More than 100 million women, mostly in Africa have undergone genital
mutilation, mostly in childhood, often without anesthesia or sterile
technique. Pain, bleeding and infection are immediate consequences,
loss of sexual satisfaction and arousal are long-term consequences.
The procedure varies in severity, from a full excision of the clitoris and
labia, to a "lesser" procedure in which only the clit is removed. In a
number of African cultures, genital mutilation is part of a coming-of-age
ceremony, and defenders have contended that it is a cultural practice,
like the barbaric and unnecessary circumcision among male Jews,
where the Mohel (rabbi) sucks the wounded penis and often causes
A study by members of the World Health organization Study Group on
Female Genital Mutilation and Obstetrical Outcome concluded that the
"lesser" forms of cutting caused about a 20 percent increase in death
rates of both mother or baby, while extensive procedures caused
increases of more than 50 percent.
In study countries rates of genital cutting ranged from a high 83
percent, in Sudan, to a low of about 40 percent, in Ghana. One country
involved in the study, Senegal outlawed the more extensive form of the
procedure in 1998.
Source: New York Times, Friday, June 2, 2006 and Raquel's files.
See also: Wikipedia: Female Circumcision.
|Clit Removal ("Female Circumcision") In Africa
These photos were taken in April 2006, at the foundation’s annual
mass circumcision, which is free and open to the public and held
during the lunar month marking the birth of the prophet Muhammad.
The Assalaam Foundation runs several schools and a mosque in
Bandung, Indonesia’s third-largest city and the capital of West Java.
The photographer Stephanie Sinclair was taken to the circumcision
event by a reproductive-health observer from Jakarta and allowed to
spend several hours there. Over the course of that Sunday morning,
more than 200 girls were circumcised, many of them appearing to be
under the age of 5. Meanwhile, in a nearby building, more than 100
boys underwent a traditional circumcision as well.
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.”
Female genital cutting — commonly identified among international
human rights groups as female genital mutilation — has been outlawed
in 15 African countries. Many industrialized countries also have similar
laws. Both France and the U.S. have prosecuted immigrant residents
for performing female circumcisions.
In Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, a debate
over whether to ban female circumcision is in its early stages. The
Ministry of Health has issued a decree forbidding medical personnel to
practice it, but the decree which has yet to be backed by legislation
does not affect traditional circumcisers and birth attendants, who are
thought to do most female circumcisions. Many agree that a full ban is
unlikely without strong support from the country’s religious leaders.
According to the Population Council study, many Indonesians view
circumcision for boys and girls as a religious duty.
Female circumcision in Indonesia is reported to be less extreme than
the kind practiced in other parts of the globe — Africa, particularly.
Worldwide, female genital cutting affects up to 140 million
women and girls in varying degrees of severity, according to
estimates from the World Health Organization. The most
common form of female genital cutting, representing about 80
percent of cases around the world, includes the excision of the
clitoris and the labia minora. A more extreme version of the
practice, known as Pharaonic circumcision or infibulation,
accounts for 15 percent of cases globally and involves the
removal of all external genitalia and a stitching up of the vaginal
Studies have shown that in some parts of Indonesia, female
circumcision is more ritualistic — a rite of passage meant to purify the
genitals and bestow gender identity on a female child — with a
practitioner rubbing turmeric on the genitals or pricking the clitoris once
with a needle to draw a symbolic drop of blood. In other instances, the
procedure is more invasive, involving what WHO classifies as “Type I”
female genital mutilation, defined as excision of the clitoral hood, called
the prepuce, with or without incision of the clitoris itself. The Population
Council’s 2003 study said that 82 percent of Indonesian mothers who
witnessed their daughters’ circumcision reported that it involved
“cutting.” The women most often identified the clitoris as the affected
body part. The amount of flesh removed, if any, was alternately
described by circumcisers as being the size of a quarter-grain of rice,
a guava seed, a bean, the tip of a leaf, the head of a needle.
At the Assalaam Foundation, traditional circumcisers say they learn the
practice from other women during several years of apprenticing. Siti
Rukasitta, who has been a circumciser at the foundation for 20 years,
said through an interpreter that they use a small pair of sterilized
scissors to cut a piece of the clitoral prepuce about the size of a nail
clipping. Population Council observers who visited the event before the
2003 study, however, reported that they also witnessed some cases of
circumcisers cutting the clitoris itself.
Any distinction between injuring the clitoris or the clitoral hood is
irrelevant, says Laura Guarenti, an obstetrician and WHO’s medical
officer for child and maternal health in Jakarta. “The fact is there is
absolutely no medical value in circumcising girls,” she says. “It is 100
percent the wrong thing to be doing.” The circumcision of boys, she
adds, has demonstrated health benefits, namely reduced risk of
infection and some protection against H.I.V.
Nonetheless, as Western awareness of female genital cutting has
grown, anthropologists, policy makers and health officials have warned
against blindly judging those who practice it, saying that progress is
best made by working with local leaders and opinion-makers to
gradually shift the public discussion of female circumcision from what it’
s believed to bestow upon a girl toward what it takes away. “These
mothers believe they are doing something good for their children,”
Guarenti, a native of Italy, told me. “For our culture that is not easily
understandable. To judge them harshly is to isolate them. You cannot
make change that way.”
SULAIMANIYA, Iraq — Human Rights Watch urged Kurdistan’s
government on Wednesday to ban genital cutting of women and girls, a
practice the organization said is widespread and dangerous there, but
which they said Kurdish officials had failed to move aggressively to
Human Rights Watch, an advocacy organization based in New York,
interviewed 31 girls and women last year and combined its findings
with recent surveys by other organizations that found that at least 40
percent of girls and women in Iraq’s Kurdistan region had undergone
the procedure, which typically involves cutting off external genitalia with
a dirty razor blade.
One of the studies, of about 1,400 girls and women interviewed during
2007 and 2008, found that almost 73 percent of women 14 years and
older said that at least a portion of their genitals had been removed.
Human Rights Watch said Kurdish girls and women described genital
cutting as being physically painful and psychologically scarring.
“Girls undergoing the procedure are forcefully held down, their legs
pried apart, and part of their genitalia cut off with a razor blade,” the
report said. “Often the same blade is used to cut several girls. No
anesthesia is applied beforehand and if anything at all is applied to the
open wound afterwards, it is water, herbs, cooking oil or ashes.”
In addition to wounds caused to women, risks include an increase in
the rate of stillbirths and in the occurrence of babies with low birth
weight, the report said.
It is not clear how common genital cutting is in the rest of Iraq, because
it has not been the subject of a comprehensive study.
Read more at New York Times.
|Kurdistan Is Urged to Ban Genital Cutting
By NAMO ABDULLA and TIMOTHY WILLIAMS
Published: June 16, 2010