Arrest Of Doctor In Detroit For Female Genital Mutilation Fuels Debate By Muslim Sect In Pakistan : Goats and Soda : NPR

More on FGM, this time with respect to Bohra:

For generations, women of a secretive Muslim sect have removed what they call “forbidden flesh” from their girls. They were told they had an infection, or an insect, that needed to be cut out. The girls were ordered to never speak of it again. Others knew to stay quiet, understanding that anything involving their genitals should stay secret.

But now the community is talking.

The arrest of a Bohra doctor in Detroit for performing FGM has given added impetus to a quiet movement in the community against the practice. The Bohra call it khafz or khatna — removing the hood of the clitoria and sometimes part of the clitoris itself when a girl is about 7 years old.

“It’s forced us to have a conversation,” says Leena Khandwalla, a 44-year-old Bohra woman who divides her time between Pakistan and New Jersey.

“It’s also created some kind of reckoning in the Bohra community.”

The Bohras are an offshoot of Shiite Islam that is headquartered in Mumbai, with prosperous communities scattered across the globe. They number several hundred thousand. The community of some 35,000 in Karachi is one of the largest in the world, according to Bohra members.

It is unclear how the practice emerged in the community. The Bohras say the prophet Mohammed sanctioned it — and cut his daughter Fatima, who is revered by Shiite Muslims. Few Muslims hold such a belief.

Ultimately it’s practiced because the sect’s leader in Mumbai, Mufaddal Saifuddin, says so.

“We obey him,” says Mrs. Ali, a 30-year-old Bohra woman who supports cutting. She has asked us to use only her surname. She described him as a father who knew best. “Why would he harm us?”

A survey of Bohra women in India in February led by an anti-FGM advocacy group suggested up to three-quarters of Bohra women were cut.

Although Bohras believe cutting women is necessary, it is not enforced by religious leaders. It is community pressure that keeps the tradition going, one Bohra follower says — often from in-laws to young mothers.

In that way, the continuing practice signals how Bohras embrace an extreme form of conformity.

That was apparent in the Bohra enclave in Karachi on a recent Friday. Male worshippers turned up for prayers in the Bohra mosque in identical clothing. Men wore white skullcaps, pants and long shirts with three buttons — imitating the dress of their ancient religious leaders. Women wore distinctive, colorful, matching skirts and headscarves — all cut in the same style, with ribbons tied under the chin.

And underscoring that conformity, most of the dozen Bohra men and women interviewed asked to only use their first names, or stay anonymous, to protect their identity. Some worried about being excluded from community events. One woman, interviewed in her house, peered from the windows to see if anybody could see the NPR reporters from the street.

But there is a paradox in this community. Bohra followers lead lifestyles that are astonishingly liberal in conservative Pakistan, making their support of FGM more startling. Bohra followers comfortably talked about their sex lives and bodies. They discussed parent-supervised dating and pre-marital sex and marital sex — but not FGM.

The silence around the Bohra practice of FGM began collapsing when Mariya Karimjee, a Pakistani-American writer, wrote of her FGM experience in 2015. It quickly went viral. Another woman, Maryum Saifee, described her experience in The Guardian. That new openness dovetailed with Bohra activism against FGM that began emerging, with groups like Sahiyo: United Against Female Genital Cutting and We Speak Out.

At the same time, an Australian court sentenced a former midwife and two Bohra community members to 15 months in jail over FGM-related crimes. Then in 2017, prosecutors brought the first criminal indictment related to FGM under U.S. law. They arrested Jumana Nagarwala, a Detroit-area Bohra doctor, for cutting at least two girls. Seven other defendants have been charged with related crimes. The case is still ongoing. (Any form of FGM on girls is a federal crime.)

The case in Detroit, in particular, gave new impetus to the conversation about FGM in the Bohra community. And it unleashed something rare in this close-mouthed community: discord.

Khandwalla, the 44-year-old, says the case in Detroit pushed her to do something she had never considered before: go public about her own experience.

And S., a 36-year-old teacher, whose name we are withholding for her anonymity, says the Detroit incident encouraged women like her, once quietly queasy about FGM, to voice their views, sharing articles on Facebook and WhatsApp groups. Arguments ensued among pro-and-anti-FGM supporters.

“On social media, it created a huge crisis,” she says. She met with NPR in a café across town, so other Bohras wouldn’t see her.

Then S. took another step. She was pressured by her in-laws into having her oldest daughter cut years ago. Her youngest girl was meant to undergo it last year — but she quietly refused to do it. “Social media made me realize how wrong this is.”

The secrecy surrounding the practice helped her maintain the impression that she had cut her youngest daughter.

S. says she wasn’t the only mother quietly rebelling against FGM. “I know for a fact a few of them will not do it.”

One religious Bohra merchant says the media furor triggered angry debate about FGM during regular Q&As with spiritual leaders. He recalled women asking, “if it’s symbolic, can’t we do without it?”

His own daughter confronted him, demanding to know why she was cut. “She questioned it a lot,” he says. “Why did you do it? Why do we have to do it?” He says after months of discussion, his daughter now supports the practice.

(The merchant spoke to NPR to explain Bohra beliefs and why they supported cutting. Religious leaders declined to comment.)

Mrs. Ali, who supports cutting, says the debates were turning people against the practice.

“They are like a pinch of salt in flour,” she says — a minority spreading through the community, changing its flavor.

The merchant and Mrs. Ali described female cutting among Bohras as a symbolic ritual, akin to male circumcision. Mrs. Ali had her own daughter cut by a Bohra gynecologist, she says.

She compared the clitoral hood to extra clothes in a crowded closet. “You just move them out of your closet,” she says. “It’s like that.”

Cutting was meant to reduce a woman’s libido and keep them away from pre-marital sex. “It’s just to control your sex drive, that’s it, but it doesn’t destroy your sex drive,” Rasheeda says. “I am married, my sex life is — thank God — perfectly alright.”

But Khandwalla says she had never shaken off the trauma of FGM.

She was 7 when her aunt told her they were going on an errand. She was taken to a dingy apartment. “The next thing I knew, my panties were being taken off and I was sort of just splayed on the ground,” she says.

“Then something really sharp happened,” she adds.

Her aunt ordered her to kiss the hand of the woman who cut her — a traditional sign of respect. For years, she thought the painful procedure was a punishment for some mysterious wrong.

As a teenager, she tried to discover what a normal vagina looked like — pre-Internet. She and her cousin compared their genitalia, but they were both cut. “My cousin looked the same as I did.”

In her early twenties, Khandwalla began having sex. She felt flushes of arousal but struggled to orgasm. She married about a decade ago. She says the experience of FGM left her feeling that her body was dirty and that sex was shameful.

Many of the women who do not oppose FGM did not cite its pain or trauma as a reason. They said they were angry because they had not consented to the procedure. They believe they should have not undergone FGM as a child, but rather should have been asked as an adult if they would consent to it.

And they said they could not find any proof in Islam to justify it.

After the furor surrounding FGM cases in Australia and the U.S., the Bohra spiritual leader issued letters to communities in the West telling them not to undertake the practice if it was illegal.

If it didn’t have to be done in the West, why did they have to do it in Pakistan, asked Alina, a 20-year-old Bohra student. It was a double standard, she argued.

She started doubting the practice after she began dating in high school. She realized being cut hadn’t prevented her from having pre-marital sex. It just made it more painful.

She confronted her mom: “if the only reason you did it is this whole idea of control — it doesn’t do that. So why the hell did you get this done to me?”

The debate surrounding the cases in the U.S. and Australia inflated her doubts and encouraged her to speak out. She saw that her “woke” university friends were all fighting their own liberal causes in Pakistan, and it inspired her.

“If I can make a change, then I should do it,” she says. “I will literally try to convince everyone I know, I will do any research required, to actually show there’s no backing for this.”

She was speaking out against FGM in her community — but she wouldn’t speak out to women from other religious groups — at least not in a way she could be identified, she says. She didn’t want to be seen as publicly trashing her own community, and she feared that Bohra women would be less likely to listen to her if she went public.

She wanted to be that secret minority in her community, spreading doubt about FGM.

She was going to be that pinch of salt in flour.

via Arrest Of Doctor In Detroit For Female Genital Mutilation Fuels Debate By Muslim Sect In Pakistan : Goats and Soda : NPR

New citizenship guide to warn against ‘abhorrent’ practice of female genital mutilation

Good. Now the question remains how this will be presented and what language will be used.

Hopefully, the guide will place this in the context of spousal and child abuse, sexual assault, and a short summary of the evolution of women’s rights in Canada, without the identify politics label of “barbaric cultural practices.”

While one would have hoped that the government would have done this in any case, one has to give credit to Conservative Immigration Critic Michelle Rempel for pressing the issue:

Canada’s updated citizenship guide will include a warning to newcomers about the illegal practice of female genital mutilation.

In a statement provided to CBC News, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen called it an “abhorrent practice” that is against the law in Canada.

“While the content for the new guide is still being developed, Canadians can be assured that the new document will include information on Canada’s laws against gender-based violence, including FGM,” he said.

“We would normally not comment on a product still under development, but given the interest in this specific issue, I felt it was important to update Canadians on where we stand.”

The issue has become politically charged, with the Conservatives suggesting the revamped guide would drop a reference to the practice.

Immigration critic Michelle Rempel has repeatedly pressed Hussen on the topic, and sponsored an e-petition in the House of Commons that calls on the government to ensure the new guide condemns the practice.
Petition E-1310, which is open until Feb, 3, now has nearly 25,000 signatures.

On Nov. 28, 2017, Rempel urged people to sign the petition in a tweet that said: “Trudeau is removing references to female genital mutilation as being a harmful practice from Canada’s citizenship guide.”

Rempel was citing a report from The Canadian Press, which said a draft copy of the revised citizenship guide removed the reference to FGM. The current guide, brought in by the Conservatives in 2011, stresses that men and women are equal under the law in Canada.

“Canada’s openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, “honour killings,” female genital mutilation, forced marriage or other gender-based violence,” it reads. “Those guilty of these crimes are severely punished under Canada’s criminal laws.”

via New citizenship guide to warn against ‘abhorrent’ practice of female genital mutilation | CBC News

The cynical roots of Rempel’s female genital mutilation crusade – iPolitics

Martin Patriquin on Michelle Rempel’s raising the issue of FGM and its inclusion or not in the revision of the Discover Canada citizenship guide:

The procedure by which a woman’s clitoris is surgically removed is usually performed without anesthesia and in unsanitary conditions. Unnecessary, retrograde and associated with a host of physical ailments, the surgery also can saddle a woman with a lifetime of psychological issues.

The very purpose of the surgery — to deprive a woman of sexual pleasure — is religiosity at its worst. Only a monster would support such a thing.

A monster — or the Liberal government, according to the blinkered thinking of Conservative MP Michelle Rempel. She seems to believe that the 23rd prime minister of Canada, along with its 20th immigration minister, are in favour of the practice.

Why? Because the Liberal government (she suggests) plans to remove from the pending new citizenship guide a reference to female genital mutilation, which is listed among other “barbaric cultural practices,” including honour killings and forced marriage.

“Those guilty of these crimes are severely punished under Canada’s criminal laws,” the current guide helpfully points out.

In fact, ‘plans to remove’ is too strong a statement, as the Liberals have yet to release the new citizenship guide, which newcomers use to study for the citizenship test. Nor have the Liberals said that the reference would be excised from the guide, despite the leak of a draft copy this summer that didn’t include it. Whenever he is asked about it, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen typically spouts the words “consultation” and “stakeholders” ad absurdum.

Rempel, who serves as the party’s shadow minister for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, sees something altogether nefarious in all this bureaucratese. And should the Liberals indeed remove the mention of female genital mutilation, it will be a “tacit message to people that perhaps the Canadian government is OK with it,” Rempel recently said during a radio interview.

open quote 761b1bRempel’s line of questioning strongly suggested Hussen was a cypher, using his position to foist the practice of ritual mutilation on an unsuspecting Canadian public.

So, there you have it. Canada’s current government is in favour of the forced, ritual removal of a part of a woman’s anatomy, according to the Official Opposition. To be clear, Rempel says she doesn’t know why the Liberal government would be gung ho on such a thing. But that hasn’t stopped her from speculating — on the record.

During a recent parliamentary committee hearing, Rempel lobbed loaded questions at Hussen, the apparent goal of which was to suggest the Prime Minister’s Office had asked for the reference to be removed. After Hussen said the PMO hadn’t instructed him to do anything, Rempel aimed for the jugular — or rather, below the belt. “What is your personal view?” Rempel asked Hussen, before the committee chair mercifully cut her off.

Hussen hails from Somalia, where the rate of female genital mutilation is the highest in the world, according to UNICEF. He is a refugee who fled war and strife to become a Canadian citizen and eventually a federal cabinet minister. Rempel’s line of questioning strongly suggested he was a cypher, using his position to foist the practice of ritual mutilation on an unsuspecting Canadian public.

The reference to female genital mutilation in the citizenship guide is similarly loaded. Telling potential citizens that cutting off another person’s body parts is illegal and will be punished is … redundant. Worse still, the inference is clear, and is aimed squarely at a certain subset of would-be Canadian citizens: Muslims.

Not coincidentally, female genital mutilation is carried out in roughly 30 countries, nearly all of them in Africa and nearly all predominantly Muslim. The inclusion of the phrase in the 2011 citizenship guide, much like the Conservative’s “barbaric cultural practices hotline” gambit during the 2015 election, is the stuff of cynical wedge politics meant to leverage revulsion against an identifiable religious group.

It conveniently ignores the fact that immigrants and refugees often flee their countries of origin specifically because of such practices. And it vastly overstates the scope of the problem in Canada.

As in Europe, instances of genital mutilation in this country remain isolated tragedies, and often come to light as a result of arrests. Moreover, the rate of female genital mutilation among those 30 countries has decreased by 30 per cent since 1985, according to UNICEF.

Meanwhile, other types of crimes in Canada are far more common. There were 1,409 police reported hate crimes in 2016 — an increase of 20 per cent since 2013. The homicide rate has also increased by 20 per cent in that time period. There were over 220,000 assaults across the country in 2016, and roughly 159,000 instances of breaking and entering.

One wonders why Rempel isn’t pushing the federal government to remind potential citizens that murder, assault, thievery and race-based aggression are illegal in this country and will be punished. Because it’s obvious, perhaps?

via The cynical roots of Rempel’s female genital mutilation crusade – iPolitics

Tories Push Trudeau To Keep FGM Warning In Citizenship Guide

Of course, the citizenship guide should maintain a reference to FGM.

But this needs to be placed in the broader context of violence against women and the history of how Canadian society has evolved in terms of women’s rights, definition of sexual assault, employment equity and the like, not just with an identity politics bumper sticker of “barbaric cultural practices”:

Federal Conservatives are pressuring the Liberal government to ensure that the final draft of the new citizenship guide includes a warning that female genital mutilation (FGM) is a crime in Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not speak to the guide when pressed about the issue in question period Wednesday, but said he is committed to ending the “barbaric practice” around the world.

Tory immigration critic Michelle Rempel noted in the House of Commons that the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women — better known as UN Women — tweeted about FGM as part of its “16 days of activism.”

The UN group called FGM — the intentional cutting of female genital organs for non-medical reasons — a human rights violation that has been perpetuated against 200 million women and girls.

“Canada’s citizenship guide informs newcomers that FGM is a crime in Canada. However Canada’s prime minister has decided to delete this information,” Rempel charged.

The MP was referencing a working copy of the new citizenship guide the government is preparing. The draft, which was obtained by The Canadian Press in the summer, reportedly omits lines stating that certain “barbaric cultural practices,” such as FGM and honour killings, are illegal in Canada. The previous Tory government included those warnings in their overhauls of the guide.

Rempel urged Trudeau in the House to stand with FGM survivors and the UN by reversing what she called his “decision.” She made similar comments on Twitter shortly after question period.

Trudeau responded that he “personally brought up this issue” during a visit to Liberia last year, “challenging local leaders and governments to step up on the fight against FGM.”

Then he said something that drew an immediate reaction from Tories.

“We will continue to lead the way pushing for an end to these barbaric practices of female genital mutilation everywhere around the world. This is something… and here in Canada… this is something we take very seriously.”

Tories bashed Trudeau over comments in 2011

The use of the word “barbaric” harkens back to a controversy in 2011, when Trudeau was serving as the immigration critic of the then-opposition Liberals. He initially took exception to the way the Tories’ revamped citizenship guide described honour killings as “barbaric.”

Trudeau said at the time that the government should have instead called all violence against women “absolutely unacceptable” and made a better “attempt at responsible neutrality.” Top Tories, including then-immigration minister Jason Kenney, relentlessly blasted Trudeau over his remarks.

Trudeau later apologized and retracted his initial take on the guide.

“I want to make it clear that I think the acts described are heinous, barbaric acts that are totally unacceptable in our society,” he said in a statement at the time, according to CBC News.

The debate over so-called “barbaric cultural practices” also factored heavily in the 2015 election, when the Tories famously pledged to create a tip line for Canadians to call if they suspected a child or woman could fall victim to forced marriage, FGM, or polygamy. Liberals said then that the Conservatives’ campaign pledge was really about stoking “fear and division.”

PM brings up lessons from 2015 election

Trudeau referenced that ill-fated Tory promise in the House Tuesday while responding to Conservative questions about how his government is handling suspected ISIS terrorists after they return to Canada. The prime minister said Tories have learned nothing from the results of the last federal vote.

“They ran an election on snitch lines against Muslims, they ran an election on Islamophobia and division, and still they play the same games, trying to scare Canadians,” Trudeau shouted.

“The fact is we always focus on the security of Canadians, and we always will. They play the politics of fear, and Canadians reject that.”

via Tories Push Trudeau To Keep FGM Warning In Citizenship Guide

Women in Ismaili Muslim sect say they have had FGM in Canada

More about FGM and the Dawoodi Bohras in The Star (see earlier Ottawa says female genital mutilation is ‘abhorrent,’ but offers no commitment on tracking cases):

Women from a small sect of Ismaili Muslims called the Dawoodi Bohras have reported that female genital mutilation has been performed on them in Canada, a study given to the federal government reveals.

The first research of its kind to probe the practice within this tightly knit South Asian community, the study found that 80 per cent of Bohra women surveyed have undergone FGM and two of the study’s 18 Canadian participants said it happened within Canada’s borders.

In Canada, FGM was added to the Criminal Code under aggravated assault in 1997. The study does not provide additional information on the two cases it uncovered.

Most commonly associated with communities in sub-Saharan Africa, FGM is also practised among members of this Muslim sect who trace their roots to Yemen in the 11th century and who migrated to Gujarat, India, in the 1500s.

Authored by Sahiyo, an organization of anti-FGM activists and members of the Dawoodi Bohra community, the study was completed in February. Preliminary results went to officials from Canada’s Foreign Affairs Department in June 2016. The federal government says it is looking into the issue.

The researcher’s findings show that more than 80 per cent of the 385 Dawoodi Bohra women surveyed — including all 18 Canadian participants — want the practice to end and would not do it to their daughters.

…Khatna is the South Asian term for genital cutting and, according to the study, the sect’s practice of removing a woman’s clitoris is done for reasons including “religious purposes,” to curb sexual arousal, for cleanliness and to maintain customs and traditions.

“The findings (of the study) demonstrate that FGC (female genital cutting) is deeply rooted in the community’s culture,” the authors write. Sahiyo means “friends” in Gujarati.

“Understanding the complex social norms and cultural values systems that shape the meaning and significance of the practice within this community is critical work of anti-FGC advocates.”

…A continuing Star investigation has revealed that Canadian girls have been taken overseas to have the procedure and that thousands more could be at risk of being sent abroad to be subjected to FGM.

Practitioners who perform FGM are “almost certainly entering Canada” to engage in the practice, says an internal report from Canada Border Services Agency, as reported by Global News in July.

FGM is a cultural practice dating back hundreds of years, and organizations including the United Nations say that although it is often perceived as being connected to some Islamic groups, it also occurs in other religious communities, including Christians, Ethiopian Jews and certain traditional African religions.

In Ontario, some women have asked their doctors to reverse the most severe type of FGM. Provincial records show that in the past seven years, Ontario has performed 308 “repairs of infibulations,” a surgery that creates a vaginal opening where it has been sewn mostly shut. There are currently no known procedures in Canada that replace tissue.

Canada has recently given $350,000 to a small Quebec organization to fight FGM in at-risk communities, but critics say little has been done to understand the problem’s scope and that Canada is lagging far behind other developed countries in prevention. Experts say there is a lack of support services available for women living with the physical and psychological effects of FGM, regardless of when and where it happened to them.

An email exchange between federal Foreign Affairs officials in Canada and India discussing the report said it will be “helpful” as the government is “in the midst of examining how Canada can engage on this file internationally. One government lawyer, the emails state, is “looking at the domestic implications of this practice.”

Considered progressive in some areas, Dawoodi Bohras have a “high level of education and wealth,” according to the federal emails, and the community has “political and cultural influence that exceeds its size.” The emails — correspondence between government officials over the past two years — were released to the Star through an access to information request. They reference cases the government is aware of in which Canadian girls have undergone or are alleged to have undergone cutting abroad, in addition to the report about the Dawoodi Bohras.

The emails say officials learned from the report how over the past two decades there has been a regression of gender equality in the Dawoodi Bohra community worldwide and there is “significant hidden violence against women.” There are roughly 20,000 to 40,000 Dawoodi Bohras in Canada, according to the federal emails.

Titled “Understanding Female Genital Cutting in the Dawoodi Bohra Community,” the Sahiyo study surveyed 385 Dawoodi Bohra women across the globe, including women in Canada, the U.S., Australia and the United Kingdom, in an attempt to shed light where “little or no data” exists. It aims to inform policy makers and health professionals in order to “end the practice,” the study said, that has left most of its participants with emotional scars — anger, haunting memories and frustration in their sexual lives.

“I feel robbed and cheated of my sexuality,” one respondent told the study’s researchers.

Shaheeda Tavawalla-Kirtane, Sahiyo’s Canadian co-founder, who works in India to raise awareness about FGM, said she has been tweeting to Canadian ministers because Canada should be aware this “crime” is happening on its soil. The Sahiyo study suggests creating a hotline for at-risk girls and education about FGM for front-line workers, such as teachers.

Some of the study’s participants reported that, typically at the age of 7, they were told they were having the procedure to remove a “worm” and that khatna was part of the religion.

The religious justification for this practice may come from passages in the Da’aim al-Islam, a sacred Islamic text that informs the tenets and traditions of the Dawoodi Bohras. According to The Pillars of Islam, a respected translation of the text, cutting will lead to “greater purity.”

Though most study participants said they do not want the practice to continue, breaking the cycle is a challenge because women are afraid of the backlash they’ll face if they don’t keep up with the social norm, Tavawalla-Kirtane said.

Worldwide, there are an estimated 1.5 to two million Dawoodi Bohras, living mainly on the west coast of Gujarat and Maharashtra states in India, and in Pakistan.

The sect’s India-based spiritual leader, referred to as the Sayedna, enjoys centralized power and access to the properties and assets of his communities around the world, the federal emails state.

As Dawoodi Bohras settled in the GTA, the Sayedna in the early 1990s notably tried — but failed — to incorporate himself in Canada as a “corporation sole,” a company of one person. The designation may have given the Sayedna decision-making power over the resources, land and money, of the Dawoodi Bohra communities in Canada.

A local member of the Bohra community, writing to a Canadian senator about the issue at the time, said the Canadian Dawoodi Bohras had questionable practices, including “actively enforcing” female genital cutting. The writer alleged that “a lady with medical background or qualifications visits Ontario regularly to conduct these procedures on little girls of the community.”

In April 2016, a sermon leaked to the media shows the current Sayedna talking about khatna and, according to the federal documents, reportedly saying: “The act has to happen. If it is a man (male circumcision), then it is right, it can be openly done, but if it is a woman then it must be done discreetly, but then the act has to be done.”

Two months later, as described in the federal emails, the Sayedna released a further statement saying that “male and female circumcision … are religious rites that have been practiced by Dawoodi Bohras throughout history” and religious texts, “written over a thousand years ago, specify the requirements for both males and females as acts of religious purity.” But he noted that Bohras must abide “by the laws of the countries in which they reside.”

Faizan Ali, a member of the Mississauga congregation who said he is overseeing the construction of the community’s new 50,000-square-foot mosque, said local Dawoodi Bohras don’t practise FGM in Canada because it is against the law.

As far as he knows, khatna is not practised in the GTA, he said, but “if someone is going at their own discretion, obviously we cannot control it.”

Ali said he does not agree with pushing the practice on a child. But if an adult woman who is 18 or older consents, he said, it is “fine.”

Unlike in other cultures that celebrate FGM, throwing parties and lavishing money and gifts onto young girls as part of the procedure, the Dawoodi Bohra practice has traditionally been done clandestinely, said Dilshad Tavawalla, a lawyer and anti-FGM activist in Toronto whose daughter is the Sahiyo co-founder.

Tavawalla, who underwent the procedure in Mumbai when she was 7, calls it “a women’s secret” even though today it is being “medicalized” and sometimes done overseas by health professionals in clinics and hospitals.

Women who openly oppose the practice are perceived as attacking the community and culture, Tavawalla said, and could face consequences such as being socially ostracized. Friends and family members cut ties — a fate that feels catastrophic in this small, loyal and closely knit religious sect, sources have told the Star.

Source: Women in Ismaili Muslim sect say they have had FGM in Canada | Toronto Star

Ottawa says female genital mutilation is ‘abhorrent,’ but offers no commitment on tracking cases

The Star continues its series on FGM, highlighting comparative Canadian inaction:

Canada has done little to understand the scope of the problem and is lagging far behind other developed countries in efforts to prevent it.

For example, earlier this summer, U.S. Homeland Security launched a pilot program to help prevent vacation cutting. The program is based on an initiative at London’s Heathrow airport, where security agents are trained to identify girls at risk.

The U.S., Britain and Australia have all undertaken research to determine the number of girls at risk: 507,000 in the U.S., 197,000 in the U.K. and 83,000 in Australia, according to an internal report from the Canada Border Services Agency.

The CBSA report, initially reported on by Global News, deals primarily with what is strongly suspected by Canadian officials but, as yet, unknown: whether FGM is happening on Canadian soil.

In the U.S., a doctor in Michigan was recently charged with carrying out the practice on up to 100 young girls, according to federal prosecutors, who say that no Canadian victims have so far been identified. There have also been cases in the U.K., France and Australia.

Those who perform female genital mutilation, called FGM practitioners, are “almost certainly entering Canada” to engage in the practice, according to the five-page report, which was prepared by Canadian border intelligence for employees.

“According to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Canadian health-care providers, it is almost certain that FGM is also happening in Canada,” despite it being illegal, the report says.

A spokesperson for CBSA did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

Source: Ottawa says female genital mutilation is ‘abhorrent,’ but offers no commitment on tracking cases | Toronto Star

Canadian girls are being taken abroad to undergo female genital mutilation, documents reveal

Good reporting by the Star, including some comparative analysis of what other countries are doing:

Thousands of Canadian girls are at risk of female genital mutilation, government officials believe. And some are being taken overseas to have the dangerous procedure done — an illegal act known as “vacation cutting.”

Officials from the federal government’s Global Affairs Ministry warn that, as with forced marriage, the “one chance rule” applies to these cases, meaning a professional might get only one opportunity to speak to a potential victim and save her, according to documents obtained by the Star.

And yet Canada has done little to understand the scope of the problem and is lagging far behind other developed countries in efforts to prevent it, experts say.

“Based on the limited information available, it is possible that a few thousand Canadian girls are at risk, some of whom will be taken overseas for the procedure,” wrote Elaine Cukeric of the federal government’s Vulnerable Children’s Unit in a June 2015 email to a Canadian consular official in Nairobi, Kenya. At the time, the unit — tasked with dealing with issues related to Canadian children abroad — was reaching out to consulates in Africa, the Middle East, India and Pakistan where cutting is prevalent and asking for their experience dealing with the practice so that “we might develop an effective strategy.”

In a statement to the Star, a Global Affairs spokesperson said the federal government “recognizes that female genital mutilation/cutting is one of the most severe violations of the human rights of women and girls” and when made aware of a case they provide “appropriate consular services.” The spokesperson could not say how many cases her ministry has dealt with in recent years because they “do not have a specific category to track cases of (FGM)” and, further, are “not aware of any updated statistics on the issue of Canadian girls at risk.”

…FGM affects more than 200 million women worldwide, according to UNICEF. It is a crime in Canada, as is sending a child elsewhere to have the procedure done.

What is unknown — beyond anecdotal evidence — is whether FGM is happening within Canadian borders. In the U.S., a doctor in Michigan was recently charged with carrying out the practice on up to 100 young girls, according to federal prosecutors, who say that no Canadian victims have been identified yet. There have also been cases in the U.K., France and Australia.

Cukeric’s email correspondence, and dozens of additional emails sent by government employees over the past three years and released to the Star through an access to information request, reference multiple cases the government is aware of in which Canadian girls have undergone or are alleged to have undergone cutting abroad.

Government officials reference summaries of specific cases they are aware of, which are housed in internal servers. Many of the cases arose because “a relative (aunt/cousin) was the complainant,” said a Nairobi official. A different consular official in Nairobi wrote that their office had seen “several cases, not all of them successful.” Other officials mention known cases in Somalia and Pakistan — where it is “understood they have a lot of experience dealing with” FGM cases.

In one email chain from September 2015, officials reference a case in which a “little girl” was “alleged to be removed from Canada for the purposes of female circumcision.” (The child’s location in Canada and the country she was allegedly taken to have both been redacted to protect her privacy.)

Local police and children’s services “were unable to prevent the girl from leaving,” said one email.

…In another document from June 2015 summarizing an hour-long phone call with a senior consular officer in Nairobi, the official describes the “very delicate cases” and focuses on Somalia as an example.

The official explains that many Somali families relocated to Canada during the civil war in the 1990s, and some grew “concerned about the development of Canadian values.” In one example, a family might tell their children they are going on vacation to Australia, but instead, according to the documents, they travel to a small, remote village in Somalia for the girls to be cut. The official adds that the Canadian government has found out about these cases because “having grown up in Canada, the girls know their rights” and use social media to tell a friend, who in turn contacts Canadian authorities.

The consular official then listed a series of challenges associated with intervening, including the “right of the father to prohibit movement” and the fact that locally engaged staff overseas “may be less concerned with FGM and therefore less likely to act.”

It is also very difficult for victims of FGM to speak out against their families, the official said, adding that telling the embassy their story means they might never see their parents or siblings again. “It becomes the most difficult decision of their young lives,” she said.

In another summary of a discussion about FGM with a Toronto-based expert whose identity has been censored, the expert tells the Vulnerable Children’s Unit that Global Affairs had previously received accounts of “some girls who have been severely beaten and/or sexually abused by family members prior to (FGM), sometimes due to the girl’s attempt to contact authorities for assistance.”

At the same time, officials acknowledge they likely aren’t seeing the majority of cases.

“I think (FGM) is highly under-reported at the consular level, as most victims are young … and often not in a position to help themselves,” said yet another consular official in Nairobi in an email sent in March of this year. She added that for older girls, “it is often done in conjunction with a forced marriage, so the two issues are closely linked and might be reported as (forced marriage) instead of (FGM).”

In 1997, the Criminal Code was amended to include female genital mutilation as a form of aggravated assault. It’s not just the person performing the mutilation who could face justice. Provisions in the code also allow for others to be charged, for example, if a parent actively participates in the offence by holding a child’s hands or requests that someone perform it. And the amendments make it illegal to remove a child from Canada for the purpose of female genital mutilation.

There has never been a criminal conviction for female genital mutilation in Canada.

In its statement to the Star, Global Affairs say efforts to prevent FGM “remain collaborative,” and it also sent statements on behalf of the RCMP; the Department of Justice; Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada; and Status of Women Canada. They reference various steps taken by government agencies. For example, the RCMP is currently in the midst of developing an internal policy to deal with FGM. The Justice Department has given nearly $350,000 in funding to an organization in Quebec, RAFIQ, to develop “tools on the physical and psychological consequences of FGM.”

“The purpose of this project is to try to empower other women to denounce this kind of practice and to help young women to understand why it is not a good practice,” said Maria Montejo, chair of the board of RAFIQ.

The statement from Global Affairs also says that, “going forward, we will do more work with local women’s organizations.”

While there is some progress being made, Canada’s efforts fall short of what other countries are actively doing, said Corinne Packer, a senior researcher at the University of Ottawa’s school of public health. Packer co-authored a 2015 report on Canada’s response to FGM for the Canadian Medical Association Journal and reviewed the government responses provided to the Star.

“We’re behind the ball. We’re putting our head in the ground like an ostrich,” she said, adding that by the time a girl is overseas, it’s often too late. More work needs to done on prevention in Canada, Packer said.

Earlier this summer, U.S. Homeland Security launched a pilot program to help prevent vacation cutting. The program is based on an initiative at London’s Heathrow airport, where security agents are trained to identify girls who are risk.

Canada’s Justice Department, in a 2014 internal memo also obtained by the Star through an access to information request, acknowledges that the U.K. has “recently initiated a more proactive approach to FGM with a view to increased prosecutions.”

Kowser Omer-Hashi, a former Somali refugee now living in Toronto, was subjected to FGM. She is a former midwife who has been campaigning against the practice for more than two decades.

“We have a prime minister who declared himself a feminist and has a daughter the same age as children who could be losing their lives at this moment,” Omer-Hashi said. “If that doesn’t touch his heart to do something about FGM, I think there is no hope.”

In the internal emails obtained by the Star, government officials speaking amongst themselves suggest, and at times admit, that the Canadian response has not been adequate.

Source: Canadian girls are being taken abroad to undergo female genital mutilation, documents reveal | Toronto Star

Whether it’s a nick or full circumcision, female genital mutilation is about control: Paradkar 

Paradkar on FGM and the Dawoodi Bohras, a small sect of Ismaili Shia Muslims from India and Pakistan:

Circumcision of boys, a controversial and emotionally charged topic, is almost always by medical doctors (and not by a razor blade in a dark room), so you could say there is some comfort in a reduced risk of harm.

Science scrambled to catch up with that cultural practice and has thrown up contradictory results.

Female circumcision has no known medical benefits.

Then there is an added insult in the Bohra community. Circumcision of boys is openly celebrated. For girls, “it’s a very secretive practice,” says Doctor. “Often, the men don’t even know it’s happening to their daughters.”

So shrouded is it in secrecy that a celebration held after the cutting doesn’t even mention the girl has undergone khatna, the circumcision.

Get wounded, then hide in shame.

Like parents who circumcise their boys, women do this to their girls believing it to be in their interest.

In reality, in whose interest is it?

“It does damage to nerve endings,” says Doctor. “There’s psychological harm that makes them (women) afraid of sex. There’s pain during sex, risk of infections.”

Stories by affected women indicate it’s about male sexual insecurities.

“When a woman’s urge is moderated, many sins are eliminated from society,” says a young woman in A Pinch of Skin.

Urge to do what? To seek attention? To have sex? To have orgasms?

There’s no clarity on this, because talking about sex is taboo, as is talking about genitals.

The taboo allows for vagueness to conveniently mask what is essentially a caging of female desire.

Circumcision, whether it’s a symbolic nick, as some now claim, or a removal of the clitoral hood or clitoris, is a mark of sexual control over female bodies in this traditionally entrepreneurial culture where men travelled far as traders and were away from their wives and families for a long time.

It’s an interference that hoodwinks women into confining little girls in a chastity belt.

No such restraints for the travellers.

Source: Whether it’s a nick or full circumcision, female genital mutilation is about control: Paradkar | Toronto Star

U.K. girls learn about female genital mutilation before danger of ‘cutting season’ 

Likely an issue in Canada as well:

She teaches the types of FGM, how children can contact international organizations for help, and how to avoid getting on a plane to leave the country if they suspect they’re going for FGM.

“There’s one trick, called spoon-in-knickers,” Wardere says. “You can put something metal in your underwear when you’re going to the airport and [the detector] will sound. Everyone working in the airport is trained that if with an underage child, the detector goes off, you need to take them on the side, find out what’s going on.”

Wardere says what’s most important about what she does is making children aware of FGM and then sending them home to discuss it with their parents.

“For the first time,” she says, “that conversation is happening.”

Ali also teaches about FGM and talks about her experience. She recently returned from the Women of the World festival in Karachi, Pakistan. She says she’s received threats for sharing her story, “mostly from men.” She says people will come right up and tell her to her face.

“Just because I was talking about my own experience and something that’s happened to me, they were like, ‘F—  you’ and ‘You’re selling out to the white people’ and I just kept saying: ‘No. Actually, I’m talking about feminism and I’m talking about women’s rights.'”

Wardere also felt resistance. At first.

“Sometimes communities don’t know who is for them and who is against them,” she says. “Even if you come from that community itself. They need time to adjust and you know, figure out who you are, and then respect you and then let you in.”

Source: U.K. girls learn about female genital mutilation before danger of ‘cutting season’ – World – CBC News

Female genital mutilation should be legal in its mildest forms: gynecologists

I can understand the logic – better a minor procedure than a major one, better regulated than underground – but hard to accept nonetheless given the message that the procedure sends about women and sexuality:

Countries that have banned female genital mutilation should allow less invasive practices such as small surgical nicks to girls’ genitalia as a compromise, two U.S. gynecologists said on Monday.

But campaigners against FGM strongly criticised the proposal, saying it would undermine global efforts to eradicate the internationally condemned ritual.

At least 200 million girls and women have been subjected to FGM in over 30 countries, according to UN estimates.

The ancient practice usually involves the partial or total removal of a girl’s external genitalia. In some cases the vaginal opening is also sewn up.

But some communities practice less invasive rituals such as pricking or nicking the clitoris.

The U.S. gynaecologists, writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics, argued that permitting more minimal procedures could allow families to uphold cultural and religious traditions while protecting girls from more dangerous forms of cutting.

Communities which support FGM often consider it a prerequisite for marriage. Many also see it as a religious obligation, although it is not mentioned in the Qur’an or Bible.

But female genital mutilation can cause a host of physical and psychological problems.

Gynaecologists Kavita Shah Arora and Allan Jacobs said procedures that slightly changed the look of a girl’s genitalia without damaging them were comparable to male circumcision or cosmetic procedures in Western countries like labiaplasty.

Laws against mild modifications were “culturally insensitive and supremacist and discriminatory towards women”, they wrote in the specialist publication that is published by the British Medical Journal.

‘Behind the times’

Female genital mutilation is practised in many African countries, pockets of Asia and the Middle East, as well as by diaspora communities living in the West.

The gynaecologists suggested that global attempts to stamp out FGM with legislation had failed and may by driving the practice underground.

“We are not arguing that any procedure on the female genitalia is desirable,” they said. “Rather, we only argue that certain procedures ought to be tolerated by liberal societies.”

Source: Female genital mutilation should be legal in its mildest forms: gynecologists – Health – CBC News