In conjuction with International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation on February 6, 2022, the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy calls for the banning of female circumcision in Malaysia.
It is an unfortunate reality that female genital cutting is regularly practised in Malaysia. Also known euphemistically as female circumcision to sound acceptable and justify the procedure, it is routinely carried out on hundreds of newborn infants and young girls up to the age of two. In the past, it was village midwives and traditional birth attendants.
Today, medical professionals who should know better, are the ones wielding the scalpel, knife, or scissors.
Whether it is scraping the clitoris, penetrating the clitoral hood with a hypodermic needle, or cutting off a small bit of the hood, any procedure which is carried out on the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, whether minor or major, is consistent with female genital cutting.
Female circumcision is female genital cutting. This procedure has no medical benefit, and no religious basis.
The World Health Organization has identified four classifications of female genital cutting or mutilation (FGM/C). Fortunately, Malaysia does not have infibulation, where the vaginal opening is narrowed, causing tremendous trauma, as seen in many African and South Asian countries.
However, based on the known descriptions of the practice locally, Malaysia does have Type 1 (clitoridectomy), Type 2 (excision), and Type 4 (other procedures, including pricking of the genitalia).
It is alarming that Malaysia continues to defend this practice. Its representative to a 2018 meeting to discuss the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) explained that the removal of the folds of skin surrounding the female’s private parts does not pose harm as “it is not detrimental to their sexual health, and should not be categorised as FGM”.
It is alarming that some medical professionals, rather than depending on evidence-based medicine, use religious and cultural arguments to justify the continued existence and need for female circumcision. Why? Because there are no medical arguments to justify the need for this procedure.
It is claimed that female circumcision is necessary to control the female libido that would go out of control in later years. This argument is more akin to pseudoscience, and is a form of misogyny and patriarchal oppression.
In 2009, Malaysia’s National Fatwa Council ruled that female circumcision was obligatory (wajib) for girls. However, this is contrary to the developments in the Islamic world where several Muslim majority countries such as Egypt and Indonesia have banned and declared female circumcision (in whatever form) as un-Islamic. It is not stated in the Quran.
The distinguished Al Azhar University even declared FGM/C as forbidden (haram).
Unfortunately, the prevalence of female circumcision is high in Malaysia. A 2012 University of Malaya study found that more than 90 per cent of Malay-Muslim female respondents were circumcised, and that they were also doing the same to their daughters.
A Ministry of Health circular prohibits female genital cutting/ female circumcision in government hospitals. However, no such regulation governs private health care facilities.
This is where parents are getting the procedure done on their baby girls. This procedure is widely advertised openly and online. It is time for the government to close this loophole.
If there is no medical benefit, no religious basis, or any benefit whatsoever to performing female circumcision, then why do it?
Rather than medicalising the practice, we should instead be prohibiting and criminalising the act of female circumcision to protect our infant daughters and girls. No ifs, buts or caveats.
Azrul Mohd Khalib is the chief executive of the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy.
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