FGM in Sri Lanka: It’s never ‘just a nick’


FGM is practiced by a number of Muslim communities in Sri Lanka PHOTO/Louise Gubb/Getty Images

For decades, female genital mutilation (FGM) has been practiced in Sri Lanka. However, to those outside the practicing communities, this information elicits shock and disbelief. Secrecy about FGM in Sri Lanka is both imposed and internalised. Women who have experienced FGM strongly fear retaliation for speaking out. There is a lack of freedom to discuss, question and explore alternative views within practicing communities.

In December 2017 a news story broke the public silence on FGM, opening a contentious debate. Spokespersons for some sections of the Muslim communities in Sri Lanka confirmed the practice of cutting but have taken pains to make a distinction between FGM and “female circumcision”. They argue that what happens in Sri Lanka is “just a nick” of a girl’s clitoris that does not constitute mutilation. This distinction is not recognised by the World Health Organisation ; the types of FGM it classifies include forms described as “just a nick”.

Based on personal testimonies of women, our work shows that FGM is practiced within the Moor, Malay and Dawoodi Bohra ethnic communities in Sri Lanka.

The practice appears to vary regionally, and there are clerics who denounce FGM, those who promote it, and also those that say it is mandatory. This means there are also sections of the communities abandoning the practice, with some reporting that FGM is diminishing with each generation and could possibly die out. Some women are opting to not get it done to their daughters or pretend to have it done to save face within their families and communities.

The form and conditions under which the genital cutting happens are varied. Moor and Malay women speak of a practice done at 40 days after birth by an “Osthi mami”, a medically untrained woman who carries out the “ritual”. Shaving blades are used and there is no mention of sterilisation. What exactly is nicked and how deep the nick is is left to the untrained “Osthi mami” to decide. Blood is drawn and sometimes ash is sprinkled on the wound.

Dawoodi Bohra women describe experiencing cutting at age seven, usually by medical professionals. Some have recounted traumatic memories of the procedure, of being pinned down on tables, feeling pain between their legs and feeling pain when passing urine for days after.

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