Thinking of the brief dream in which she could feel sexual pleasure with her partner, Tanja cries. She is one of the 96% of Indonesian women who, for religious reasons, suffered genital mutilation under the age of fourteen.
Tanja, now almost 20 years old, clarifies: “I do not believe female genital mutilation is in any way circumcision, but the total castration of the woman”. Aged five, she had her clitoris (‘bazr’ in Arabic) cut.
The procedure has been practised amongst Islamic populations for centuries: the ‘mubazzira’ carries out the cutting, performing a clitoridectomy. Women with their clitoris intact are given the derogatory label ‘bazra’, she points out.
The fight against female genital mutilation (FGM) in Indonesia (a country with a population of 240 million, 85% Muslim), has encountered a major setback: having been banned for more than five years, the practice has been endorsed by the government in the last few months.
At the end of 2012, the Indonesian Ministry of Health approved a law legitimising female genital mutilation and authorising certain professionals to carry out the procedure.
Rahima (the Centre for Education and Information on Islam and Women’s Rights in Indonesia) fights to raise awareness amongst the general population on women’s rights, but they face problems in rural communities where local chiefs practise or encourage FGM.
In statements released by Channel News Asia, activist Aditiana Dewi explained how the genitals are cut with knives or coins: in some cases shamans insert grains of rice into the clitoris and allow a chicken to peck at the cut woman.
The government uses such examples to justify passing the recent ruling, claiming it stops those without the correct experience or knowledge from carrying out such cruel practices, she added.
For Rahima’s spokesperson, the blame for this withdrawal of women’s rights lies with the Indonesian Ulema Council, a group of Muslim clerics who establish the law according to Islam, who insist that the practice causes neither pain nor psychological damage.
The practice of the horrific custom relies on religious interpretations spread by word of mouth through the country. In fact, Aditiana Dewi says there is no mention of FGM in the Koran; it is a cultural practice.
Although Indonesian regulations stipulate the cut must not damage the genitals and that only the clitoral hood should be removed, the extent of the cutting very much depends on the beliefs and customs of the individual community.
Indonesian civil associations highlight the fact that the ruling puts other national laws into jeopardy: it is a violation of human rights, gender discrimination and goes against child protection policy.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates, between 100 and 140 million women have been submitted to genital mutilation, causing damage to normal bodily functions and provoking difficulties in labour.
There are different types of female genital mutilation: clitoridectomy (total or partial removal of the clitoris); the removal of the labia minora; and infibulation (the removal of the clitoris, labia minora and labia majora).
The practice can also lead to chronic haemorrhages, urinary issues and painful menstruation. During labour, the scar left by the cutting and blocking of the passage can cause foetal and maternal death.
In women who have been victims of mutilation, the death rate amongst newborns is notably high: up to 55% higher than ‘normal’ births.
The United Nations Population Fund has named the 6th February ‘International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation’, urging the international community to adopt a consistent policy.
(Translated by Claudia Rennie – Email: email@example.com)