New Delhi: About 25 representatives from the global anti-female genital mutilation (FGM) movement, and UN agencies met in India, discussing the actions needed to eliminate the harmful practice by 2030, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals, at a roundtable organised by WeSpeakOut and Equality Now.
The practice is prevalent in India amongst the Dawoodi Bohra community and some Sunni Muslim sects. There is no separate law against it.
In a joint statement, the participants concluded, “FGM is a violation of the human rights of women and girls, under both international law and the Indian constitution…. It has no health benefits, and in fact, often has both short-term and long-term health and psychological consequences.”
Highlighting the need for protection of young girls, they said the Indian government should ensure instances of FGM/Khafz are prosecuted, under existing criminal laws.
A separate law must be introduced that includes the WHO’s full definition of FGM (including Khafz), the participants said.
Participants recommended that the government create awareness on the negative impacts of FGM, specifically asking doctors to refrain from performing it and prioritising preventive measures. The Indian Medical Association has issued a statement against FGM.
During an ongoing Public Interest Litigation seeking a ban on FGM, the Supreme Court of India stated the practice is a clear violation of a woman’s bodily integrity as laid down in the Indian constitution.
FGM among the Bohra community – referred to as Khafz – was shrouded in secrecy until 2015, when the first-known anti-FGM/Khafz case against a Bohra religious leader and two others went to trial in Australia.
In April 2017, a Michigan-based doctor from the Bohra community was arrested and charged, along with two others, for performing FGM. This was the first time in the US anyone faced prosecution under the federal FGM law.
Masooma Ranalvi, WeSpeakOut founder, said, “Although sharing my story helped act as a catalyst, what is happening is about much more than my personal experience. We are living in a time where women have really found their voices. Centerstaging this much secret and hidden issue through personal narratives has helped us garner support for our campaign”
Shelby Quast, Equality Now regional director of the Americas said the key to addressing the practice is to reframe the issue as a child protection and human rights issue, rather than a religious one. “For these measures to be successful there must be political will. Following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent meeting with Bohra religious leaders, the government must show urgency in tackling this issue by officially condemning the act and beginning discussions with religious leaders to end FGM,” Quast said.