Knowing These 5 Things Can Help End Female Genital Mutilation In India

Even a few years ago, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything being said in India about Female Genital Mutilation or Cutting (FGM). But this form of gender-based violence has been happening in the country secret for at least 1,400 years.

Masooma Ranalvi (Speak Out on FGM) with Indira Jaising (Lawyers Collective)

FGM involves removing all or part of the external genitalia of a young girl, usually by force, to control their sexuality. While there is still a tendency to think of it as something that happens in distant “Africa”, FGM is very much practised in India too. Most cases – called “khatna” and occurring among the Bohras, a sect of Shia Muslims – have gone unreported, but today more and more survivors are raising awareness about it.

Speak Out On FGM, a survivor-led organisation has just released “A Guide to Eliminating Practice of FGM”, in collaboration with Lawyers Collective. The report reveals how “It infringes on the right to life and physical integrity, the right to health and the right to freedom from torture, cruel and unusual treatment, and violence.” And these are five things everyone should know about this cruel, ancient practice:

FGM Is Not Illegal In India But Law Can Still Come To Your Rescue

From Norway to Nigeria to New Zealand, over 40 countries worldwide have explicitly banned some or all forms of FGM. This means there is a specific legal recourse for survivors or those under threat of FGM. In India however, there is no specific provision criminalising the practice. In the absence of that, Sections 319 to 326, Section 324 and Section 326 of the Indian Penal code can be used against those who cause varying degrees of hurt. Then there are specific provisions in The Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act (2012), the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (2009) and the National Policy for Children which specifies that “that no custom, tradition, cultural or religious practice is allowed to violate or restrict or prevent children from enjoying their rights.” International laws like those in the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979) can also be invoked in cases involving FGM.

FGM Continues With The Help Of Doctors

In an earlier interview with Youth Ki Awaaz, Speak Out On FGM convener Masooma Ranalvi shared how Bohra women were taking their young daughters for FGM ‘surgeries’. The report similarly describes how FGM has become a medicalised procedure now – meaning that medical professionals carry it out in more sanitary and ‘respectable’ settings. This is a cause for concern because the practice has no medically proven benefits. On the contrary, many survivors have reported excessive bleeding, urinary problems, tissue swelling, and (in later life) pain during sexual intercourse, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Fear Of Excommunication Keeps FGM Going

Source: Sahiyo/Facebook

There’s a lot of cultural weight placed on FGM. This can be difficult to confront, when it is so closely linked to not just the practices of a particular community, but its very identity. And the sword of excommunication is dangled over the heads of dissenting members. This has disempowered so many Bohra women from talking about what they went through. But today, many Bohras want FGM to come to a grinding halt.

In fact, it was a group of Dawoodi Bohras themselves that worked towards instituting the Bombay Prevention of Excommunication Act back in 1949, that protects the rights of those excommunicated by their own communities.. The report cites this, and the Maharashtra Prohibition of People From Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2016, in the hopes that it will help individual members take a stand against crimes in the name of tradition.

FGM Could Intersect With Disability Rights Advocacy

The report included the experiences of FGM survivors too, who mentioned that as a result of the practice, “they get nightmares [and] they get fear and anxiety when they get married.

Another Bohra woman explained how deeply it affected her during her pregnancy, saying “I felt anxious whenever anyone touched me and had panic attacks whenever I was checked by medical staff. Not one doctor or midwife questioned this or understood why.”

Because of the effects FGM has on those who have been subjected to it, many now view it as a disability, insofar as it is a condition that restricts personal development and functioning.

Source: Sahiyo/Facebook

In France, “FGM/C is seen as a form of disability under the French legal regime,” and we have Article 229 to thank for that. The report suggests that India could definitely take a leaf out of France’s book with regards to this.

There Is A Way Forward

Sections of the IPC and a few acts applicable in some Indian states may be of help, but they are stopgap measures at best. What is desperately needed is for India to adopt an anti-FGM law as soon as possible.

Compiled with the help of senior Supreme Court Advocate Indira Jaising, the fourth sections of the report lays out the basics of a law or policy to eradicate FGM from India. This includes, as in law, the definitions of FGM, parties who may be penalised, the time period for reporting, the duty to report, prevention and rehabilitation measures among other things.

Encouragingly, Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi has said the government will act to end FGM in India. And now, with this document in place, there really should be no further delay in eradicating FGM from India.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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