Female Circumcision in Indonesia

  • Female Circumcision/ Genital Mutilation-  FC/FGM

Although it may come as a surprise to many of us, Indonesia is among the countries, where female circumcision is still present, in quite prominent number. With its rapidily growing economy, steady democracy and rich culture, Indonesia makes one of the most interesting destinations in Asia. It is the most populous Muslim nation in the world and is often presented as a model of tolerant Islam. During the 32-year Suharto dictatorship, outspoken religious expression was discouraged. When it ended in 1998 people started to manifest their religious affilation and more severe interpretations of Islam were adopted. Unlike 20 years before, more Indonesian Muslim women use a headscarf, prayers are often part of the public events and there are more general rules about what is appopriate for an exemplary Muslim girl. Muslim communities support the continuation of FGM practice, perceiving it as a traditional custom and a religious duty. Frequently presented as a required act of faith by religious leaders, FGM is still common procedure in Indonesia. Health Ministry data from 2013 suggest 51.2 percent of Indonesian girls have undergone some form of FGM’- Jakarta Post writes on September 2015. Unicef report form February 2015 confirms those statistics and United States Agency for International Development states (26 April 2015) that 97,5% female from Muslim families undergoe FGM.

Knowledge about harm of FGM/C in many rural areas is still non-existent, which mainly derives from lack of education, or useful information on the subject. Society is supersticious and strongly believes in a right of this deep rooted practice. A common myth is that it is mostly “symbolic”, involving no genital damage. A study published in 2010 by Yarsi University in Jakarta discovers it to be true only in few exceptional cases, when animist communities perform the ritual by rubbing the clitoris with turmeric or bamboo. In 80% of cases however, FGM involves ‘pain and actual cutting of the clitoris’. Indonesia does not practise the sevierest forms of mutilation found in parts of Afrika and Middle East, such as infibulation or total excision of external genitalia. Existing forms are partial or total removal of the clitoris with scissors, a blade or a piece of sharpened bamboo (type I), as well as other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area (type IV). In majority of cases the procedure is performed by midwives who have never officialy been trained to circumcise girls. They do not know what they are doing, so they do the same with girls as they do with boys- they cut.

Not many parents who suppeort this practice realise what possible FGM/C complications are. Some of the risks involve bleeding and infection which can even end as a fatal septicemia. There are also long term complications like persistent pain, sexual disfunction, chronic urinary tract infection, incontinence and infertility. There is absolutely no advantage in it for girls, except satisfying society supersticious expectations.

The 2006 Ban prohibited FGM/C, with hardly any results. Harming traditions stayed unchaged and FGM was continued, even in an official establishments. Hospitals claimed that people were going to perform it anyway, disregarding the new exisiting law, and it is safer to have it done in a steril environment and under doctor’s supervision.

Listening to those voices in 2010, the Council urged the Ministry of Health to issue a decree that would allow female circumcision by medical professionals. UNICEF informs that this regulation, PMK No. 1636/2010, includes a detailed standard operating procedure to be followed by skilled health personnel performing FGM/C, noting that it should be conducted hygienically in a clean environment and that practitioners should provide clear guidance to patients and caregivers on how to deal with potential complications. As a consequence every hospital and private maternity clinic continued to perform female circumcision on the grounds that it was considered safer and more hygienic if it was performed by trained medical personnel. The Women’s Commission in Indonesia and the Committee in the Rights of the Child have persistently advocated against this regulation, which was finally repealed in February 2014. Despite the fact that 1636/2010 is not valid anymore, there are no sanctions for individuals who continue to conduct FGM/C.

The problem is so deeply conected with culture and religion, that it seems no laws have power to eradicate it. Experts say religious support for the practice is wide spread, particularly in rural communities. Spiritual leaders do not seem to care about country official laws. In March 2010, the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the largest Muslim organization in Indonesia, issued an edict supporting FGM/C, though a leading cleric told the NU’s estimated 40 million followers “not to cut too much”. The all-present stricter moral climate have a devastating impact on FGM erradication. References to the practise do not appear in Qur’an and it is prohibited in most Islamic countries. Yet leading Indonesian clerics insist on continuing that ‘sacred duty’. In 2011 chairman of the Majelis Ulama Indonesia, most powerful council of Islamic leaders in Indonesia, issued this statement: “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.”

IRIN in artictle on 2 September 2010 stresses their concerns. Offering an example from the local community, they try to show how difficult and arduous is the process of changing society approach to the subject- ‘It is hard to tell what impact, if any, government action will have on people like grandmother Dede Jafar, who had never heard of the ban but does not like it.

That is so sad because Muslims have to be clean,” she said, sitting outside her home with her 10-month-old granddaughter who was cut eight months ago. Jafar noted that every woman in her family has undergone the procedure.

“Even if it is forbidden, we still have to find someone to do it. It is obligatory. We should always try to find someone to do it for us, because we have to.” ‘

There is more to it. People truly believe they do girls no harm, only helping them on their way to become a woman. They expect circumcision to make women more beautiful and not as wild, claiming it also makes men more excited in bed. Abigail Haworth in her artictle from 18th November 2012 in The Guardian writes how she asks the foundation’s social welfare secretary, Lukman Hakim, why they do it- “It is necessary to control women’s sexual urges,” says Hakim, “They must be chaste to preserve their beauty.” She also describes her experience from a mass circumcision ceremony in one of the schools in Bandung in 2006. The FGM was performed on 300 hundred girls of all ages up to 12 years old. ‘Women I met there had little memory of being cut, so they had few qualms about subjecting their daughters to the same fate. “It’s just what we do,” I heard over and over again.”‘she reports. Parents are usually the ones responsible for FGM of their child. There is a strong pressure from sociey and religious leaders as well.

In 1995 The United Nations has declared any type of FGM to be a violation of women’s rights. Removing part of their clitoris not only endangers their health but reflects deep-rooted attitudes that women do not have the right to control their own sexuality. Jakarta Globe on Sep 18, 2015 – ‘Now, with research indicating that government regulations and religious decrees have little to no impact on the prevalence of FGM, activists and officials are making themselves heard once more, to call for a comprehensive solution.’

Human rights activists agreeably confirm that FGM is a serious violation of basic human rights. Former Indonesian first lady and longtime women’s rights activist Sinta Nuriyah says the tradition — which she stresses has no beneficial effects at all — “causes health problems, violates women’s rights … and hurts their dignity.” “It is against human rights,” said Maria Ulfah Anshor, a women’s rights activist and former chair of the women’s wing of the NU. “For women there is absolutely no benefit and advantage.” The chief of Unicef’s child protection unit, Loren Rumble, concurred “Is it still mutilation if it is only a scratch? Absolutely, yes.

FGM is a violation of girls’ rights and Indonesia is failing to meet its obligations based on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Indonesian supporters of women’s rights believe FGM can never be justified as a religious or cultural tradition.


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