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What You Need to Know About Female Genital Mutilation

The first court case of female genital mutilation in the US has sparked an ongoing discussion about the controversial practice.The defendants include two doctors and a clinic manager in Michigan accused of “cutting” up to 100 girls since 2005, though the prosecutor has identified only eight so far.

Shelby Quast, the Director of Equality Now’s American Office, explained female genital mutilation (FGM) in a recent interview with NYMM for those unaware of what the practice entails.

“Female genital mutilation is the cutting of a girl’s genitalia for non-medical reasons,” Quast says. “It can range from removal of the clitoris, inner labia, or outer labia to the entire area being sewn up until there is only a small hole remaining for urine or menstruation. We see this performed as a way to control a girl’s body and her sexuality. Ultimately, it is a form of child abuse.”

The issue isn’t so clear cut for many Bohra women, though. Though the sect requires that the act remain a secret, the Michigan case has prompted many women to share their personal views.

One of these woman, Nazia Mirza, remembers being cut at the age of six. Now 34, she likens surviving genital mutilation to surviving rape.

“This Michigan case made me think I want to speak out,” she said to The New York Times. “To me it’s very much like a rape survivor. If you don’t say anything, then how are you going to expose it and bring awareness?”

Many people agree. The Michigan case prompted another woman, Tasneem Raja, to write about her experience being cut in New Jersey. The 34-year-old journalist received “an outpouring of emails from people saying thank you” when her article was published.

However, others believe that the defendants shouldn’t be so easily vilified. Maryah Haidery, another woman from a Bohra family in New Jersey, said she didn’t “want to be pro the practice” but that it also shouldn’t be “exaggerated into something completely barbaric.”

In this particular case, one of the two girls who were cut by Dr. Nagarwala travelled to the doctor’s office from Minnesota and recalls being told that she was being taken on a “special girls’ trip” to “get the germs out.” A medical examination revealed that her labia minora had been “altered or removed,” and that her clitoral hood was “abnormal in appearance.”

But Dr. Nagarwala’s lawyer, Shannon Smith, said that the procedure “does not meet the definition of female genital mutilation,” instead referring to it as “a ritual nick” and “a protected religious procedure.”

“With what my client was doing,” she said,” we’re talking removal of the mucous membrane, and the girls are walking out the door 10 minutes later just fine.”

Another girl from Minnesota who travelled to Michigan for the procedure recalls getting a shot that “hurt really badly” and that “she could barely walk” after the procedure.

Though female genital mutilation was banned in the US in 1996, it’s clear how important the Michigan case will be in shaping personal attitudes towards FGM and in creating a precedent for future legal proceedings.

Meanwhile, the number of women and girls at risk for FGM in the United States continues to grow, and has more than doubled in the last 10 years.

Featured Image by MONUSCO Photos on Flickr

Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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