Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Friday, February 19, 2016

Devastating Cultural Heritage

"[The practice is] regarded as part of our culture, or a confirmation that they will be officially 'Islamized'. [The practise] in Indonesia is mostly symbolic [no cutting at all]."
Jurnalis Uddin, chairman, Center for Population and Gender Studies, Yarsi University, Jakarta

"They think it's a family or cultural tradition, and an Islamic obligation, yet they can't name any verses in the Q'uran about female circumcision."
Rena Herdiyani, government lobbyist, Kalyanamitra, NGO

"Mutilation is horrible, but it's not true that it happens here. They cannot stop us. It's our tradition."
Fitri Yanti, 30, Indonesia

The ancient ritual of female genital cutting practised throughout Africa and the Middle East is also widespread in Indonesia, which is home to 12.7% of the world's estimated 1.7-billion Muslims, qualifying it as the country with the largest Muslim population in Asia. Almost half of all women in he country appear to have undergone ritual circumcision. An adjustment was recently made by the United Nations in their global figure for women and girls who have undergone circumcision.

Where formerly that number was estimated to be $130-million women who have experienced genital cutting, that number has now risen to $200-million with the inclusion of Indonesia. Female circumcision can run the gamut from slight cuts to radical, rough surgery where the clitoris and labia are removed and the vaginal passage is sewn shut, creating all manner of dire health problems including difficulty in urinating, in menstruating and in childbirth resulting from scars tissues.

Where once, in Medieval Europe, women were often forced to wear metal girdles (chastity belts) that were locked as restraints against infidelity, either voluntary or forced, in today's world nothing like it exists except for the presence of women and girls of African, Asian or Middle Eastern heritage living in the West, where the cultural dedication to continuing the practise carries on. The number of countries across the globe where female genital cutting is a social custom, however, is 30.

"We knew the practice existed but we didn't have a sense of the scope", explained Claudia Cappa, a statistics specialist for UNICEF. With the addition of Indonesia, it is clear that genital cutting is not limited as "an African problem". Indonesian experts are quick to explain that the extremely severe disfiguring that describes female genital mutilation (Clitoridectomy or infibulation) is not normally done in that country; rather they claim, it is a mere 'scratch'.

The official Indonesian government defines female circumcision as "an act of scratching the skin that covers the front of clitoris without injuring the clitoris". The percentage of girls aged 15 to 19 who have been cut worldwide has been reduced from 51 percent in 1985 to 37 percent at the present time, in countries where the practise remains a normal part of the social-cultural contract. In Egypt 30 years ago 97 percent of 15 to 19-year-olds were circumcised; the new figure is 70%. High by any measure.

Liberia has reduced its rate of female circumcision from 72 percent to 31 percent, and Burkina Faso from 89 percent to 58 percent. Despite public pressure from outside those countries that practise circumcision, and indeed from within as well, the practise continues. "Current progress is insufficient to keep up with increasing population growth", reports UNICEF. As a result, if trends continue the number of girls and women undergoing circumcision "will rise significantly over the next 15 years".

Ten years ago in a bid to enter the modern world, the government of Indonesia attempted a ban against circumcision, but that came up against vigorous resistance from religious authorities for whom the custom is important, that girls undergo the ritual before marriage. That led the government to neutralize its position, issuing regulations that state only medical professionals should be engaged in the cutting practise.

That change has led to a bit of a dilemma. Since medical providers perform the procedure, legitimacy is conferred on the practise by default. "We are very concerned with medicalization. Medical personnel are looked up to and are seen as knowing what's good for your girl", observed Francesca Moneti, child protection specialist with UNICEF.

As for Indonesian women themselves, a survey obtained their views and they vary. While female circumcision does take place in the countryside, it is confoundingly, more prevalent among  urban, wealthier families. This is a custom that reflects a patriarchal society's concern over female sexual morals, an effort to ensure that sex is not pleasurable for women, but a painful ordeal, to restrain them from infidelity.

As in so many cultural practices introduced to demean and disempower women that become so all-prevailing, women embrace the custom because without engaging in it they become social outcasts for whom good marriages are impossible to attain to. This is so engrained in society that women become the most vocal supporters of such customs harmful to women's health,dignity and longevity.
Beliefs in female circumcision practices within society:
  • "It can ensure virginity (maintain chastity before marriage)
  • It can ensure fidelity during marriage
  • It will increase male sexual pleasure
  • It can secure or enhance fertility
  • It can secure the economic and social (i.e. marital) future of daughters
  • It will prevent the clitoris from growing long like a penis
  • Through the reduction or elimination of the female genitalia, that this will attenuate the sexual desire in the female
  • The female genitalia are considered both dirty and unsightly
  • It will keep the female clean, and more hygienic
  • It is an important ritual and part of the initiation of girls into womanhood
  • It is 'tradition' and part of one's cultural heritage
  • That it is a religious mandate -- although the practice predates both Christianity and Islam"
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