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Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C)
in Indonesia, Africa, and the Middle East

2010-SEP: IRIN report on FGM/C in Indonesia.
2012-NOV: A personal account of mass FGM/C.
2013-JUL: Unicef report on FGM in Africa

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This essay is a continued from the previous essay

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Religious makeup of Indonesia:

Many people believe that Islam is found mainly in the Middle East and North Africa. However, the country of Indonesia has the largest number of Muslims of any country in the world.

According to one source, its people are predominately Muslim (80%) and Animist (16%). All other religions are followed by a total of fewer than 4% of its people. 1

However, although the Constitution requires freedom of religion, the government only recognizes six official religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. The 2010 census found 87% of Indonesians identified as Muslim, 7% Protestant, 3% Catholic, 1% Hindu and 2% other. Animists apparently were not counted in the census.

The country consists of a large number of islands. Often there are religious enclaves in different islands:

  Indonesia religions map 2

2010-SEP: IRIN report on FGM/C in Indonesia:

IRIN is an acronym for Integrated Regional Information Networks. They describe themselves as:

"... an editorially independent, non-profit project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), funded entirely by voluntary contributions from governments and other institutions." 3

IRIN issued a report on 2010-SEP-02 titled: "INDONESIA: Female genital mutilation persists despite ban." 4

They note that:

  • The Indonesian government officially banned of FGM/C in 2006. Doctors were not allowed to perform the procedure. However, there was no effort to control or reduce its practice. It continued to be performed, mainly by midwives -- many of whom had received only traditional training.

  • At the time, the ban was opposed by the Indonesian Ulema Council -- the highest Islamic advisory body in Indonesia. However, a requirement for FGM/C to be performed is not mentioned anywhere in the Qur'an.

  • The largest Muslim organization in the country, the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), issued a statement during 2010-MAR that also supported FGM/C . However, Maria Ulfah Anshor, a women’s rights activist and former chair of the women’s wing of the NU, disagreed. She said:

    "It is against human rights. For women there is absolutely no benefit and advantage. ... I would advise not to circumcise your daughters at all. If women are circumcised, people believe they become more beautiful, and not as wild, and will make men more excited in bed. For women themselves, they don’t get any excitement at all.

  • It is most widely practiced in rural areas of the country.

  • Unlike most countries worldwide, the use of FGM/C is increasing in Indonesia.

  • Artha Budi Susila Duarsa, a university researcher at Yarsi University in Jakarta, said:

    "We fear if [FGM/C] gets more outspoken support from religious leaders it will increase even more. We found in our latest research that not only female babies are being circumcised, but also older women ask for it." 4

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2012-NOV: The Guardian newspaper reports on a mass FGM/C procedure involving hundreds of babies and children:

Abigail Haworth wrote about her experience viewing sunat perempuan -- FGM/C -- performed on 248 girls ranging in age from two months to 12 years. 5 It is organized annually during the lunar month of Muhammad's birthday. It is sponsored by Yayasan Assalaam, an Islamic organization that operates a mosque and several schools in Bandung, Indonesia. The group give parents 80,000 rupiah -- worth about U.S, $ 8.00 -- and a bag of food per mutilated child.

When Lukman Hakim, the group's social welfare secretary was asked the reason for the procedure, he responded:

"It is necessary to control women's sexual urges. They must be chaste to preserve their beauty."

Haworth reported that:

  • Two national surveys conducted in 2003 and 2010 found that between 86% and 100% of families surveyed had their daughters' genitals cut, typically before the age of 5. Also, over 90% of adults want the practice continued.

  • In 2006, the Majelis Ulama Indonesia -- the country's leading council of Islamic leaders -- issued a statement saying:

    "Circumcision is a requirement for every Muslim woman. It not only cleans the filth from her genitals, it also contributes to a girl's growth."

  • Also in 2006, the mass ceremony that Hawworth attended was supervised by Hdjella, 57, a traditionally trained midwife. She said that the mutilation benefits the girls. It:

    "... balances their emotions so they don't get sexually over-stimulated. It also helps them to urinate more easily, and reduces the bad smell."

  • In 2011, the Parliament of Indonesia approved a program to train doctors how to perform FGM/C. It was triggered by the deaths of several infant girls who had been improperly operated on in hospitals. The government's prohibition had clearly failed by this time, and the hope of the legislators was that if the procedure was transferred from traditionally trained midwives to skilled physicians in hospitals, that the damage to the girls would be reduced.

  • In some Animist communities, the procedure involves rubbing the clitoris with turmeric or bamboo. No genital damage is caused. However a survey showed that in 80% of the cases nationwide, the procedure "... involves pain and actual cutting of the clitoris."

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2013-JUL: UNICEF issued Middle East & Africa report : "Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change":

FGM/C is now the preferred acronym used by UNICEF to refer to "Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting." They report that: 5

"FGM/C is concentrated in a swath of countries from the Atlantic Coast to the Horn of Africa, with wide variations in the percentage of girls and women cut, both within and across countries.

The report lists 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where mutilation is practiced. There are ten countries where this is practiced among 75% or more of the female population: Somalia where 98% of females are mutilated, to Guinea 96%, Djibouti 93%, Egypt 91%, Eritrea 89%, Mali 89%, Sierra Leone 88%, Sudan 88%, Gambia 76% and Burkina Faso 76%.

The UNICEF report:

  • Estimates that 125 million girls and women alive today have experienced FGM/C in 29 countries across Africa and the Middle East.

  • Estimates that "as many as 30 million girls are at risk of being cut over the next decade if current trends continue."

  • The practice is nearly universal in Somalia, Gunnery, Djibouti and Egypt.

  • It affects only about 1% of girls and women in Cameroon and Uganda.

  • FGM/C is usually performed by traditional practitioners, sometimes in unhygienic conditions. In countries like Egypt, Kenya and Sudan it is being performed by medical providers.

  • FGM/C is becoming less common in most of the 29 countries where it is widely performed. However, there has been little recent decline in Chad, Djibouti, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. 6,7

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The religious connection:

The belief that FGM/C is only practiced among Muslims is still widespread. One convincing piece of evidence that the practice is independent of religion is found by comparing data from two countries.

Among girls and women:

  • In Togo, 21% of Muslims have undergone FGM/C compared with only 1% of Christians.

  • In Niger, only 2% of Muslims have undergone FGM/C compared with 55% of Christians.

  • In many other countries it is common for FGM/C to be practices at similar rates for persons of all religions.

    • In Eritrea, about 98% of Muslim girls and women aged 15 to 49 years have undergone FGM/C; so have about 89% of Roman Catholics and 83% of other Christians.

    • In Egypt, about 93% of Muslim girls and women have undergone FGM/C; as have 74% of Christians.

    • In Mali, about 89% of Muslim girls and women have undergone FGM/C; as have 84% of Christians,

In Eritrea, Mali, Mauritania and Guinea, most girls and women aged 15 to 49 regard FGM/C as a religious requirement. Most boys and men regard it as a religious requirement in Mauritania and Egypt.

The 2013 UNICEF report states that:

"In Egypt, for example, the most authoritative condemnation of FGM/C in Islam to date is the 2007 fatwa (religious edict) issued by the Al-Azhar Supreme Council of Islamic Research, explaining that FGM/C has no basis in Sharia (Islamic law) or any of its partial provisions, and that it is a sinful action that should be avoided. Several regional and national fatwas have followed in the years since, with the original statement as their basis." 7

However, millennia-old traditions are hard to kill.

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References used:

Many of the web sites referenced in the preparation of his essay have already gone offline.

  1. People and Culture," WikiSpaces, at: http://austindo-partnership59.bridge.wikispaces.net/
  2. "Religion in Indonesia," Wikipedia, as on at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  3. "IRIN - Making a difference," Integrated Regional Information Networks, 2014, at: http://www.irinnews.org/
  4. "INDONESIA: Female genital mutilation persists despite ban," Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), 2010-SEP-02, at: http://www.irinnews.org/
  5. Abigail Haworth, "The day I saw 248 girls suffering genital mutilation," The Guardian, 2012-NOB-18, at: http://www.theguardian.com/
  6. "Female genital mutilation and cutting: the latest numbers," The Toronto Star, 2013-JUL-22, at: http://thestar.blogs.com/
  7. "Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting...," UNICEF, 2013-JUL, at: http://www.unicef.org

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Copyright 2013 & 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2013
Last update: 2014-APR-16

Author: B.A. Robinson
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