Female Genital Mutilation In Singapore

*Some names were changed to protect identities

My friend Ria* was 18 when she found out part of her clitoris had been cut off.

Known as ‘sunat perempuan’, the procedure involves a partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or its hood. She was only six months old, and only just found out after hearing about it from her friends in school and questioning her parents.

According to her mother, ‘being cut’ was a tradition she herself had undergone, and her “mother’s mother” too. Ria felt outraged, confused, but mostly betrayed. And when she confronted her mum, she was brushed off.

“It’s not a big deal, how were we supposed to get consent when you’re a baby?”

Despite female genital mutilation (FGM) sounding like an outdated third-world concept, stories like Ria’s in modern-day Singapore aren’t uncommon, especially in the Malay-Muslim community. Dr. Masayu Zainab Masagos, a local doctor admits to circumcising “five to six patients a day”.

FGM vs male circumcision

While some like Ria’s mum feel FGM is no different from the male circumcision of Muslim boys, it’s really not.

Both male circumcision and FGM are believed to be good for health. But while it’s been proven male circumcision lowers chances of contracting STDs, there’s no proof FGM gives the same benefits.

In the case of FGM, the wound created tends to result in tissue damage and scarring, leading to an increased risk of developing UTIs, keloids, and HIV. FGM could even cause lifelong pain and problems with sexual health and childbirth.

Male circumcision these days involves anesthesia, but FGM usually doesn’t, because it’s deemed unnecessary for the quick one-minute procedure.

Though the removal of the foreskin reduces sexual pleasure for men, they still feel sexual pleasure after circumcision. However, most women (75%) can’t achieve orgasm through penetrative sex alone. By removing the clitoris, FGM effectively takes away a woman’s right to experience sexual pleasure.

Hence, there lies the key difference between male circumcision and female genital mutilation—the latter involves mutilation, the “damaging of something severely, especially by violently removing a part”.

And more worrying than the physical injuring of the female genitalia for non-medical reasons is what FGM represents: a form of discrimination against women’s control over their bodies.

Why FGM has no place in modern society

In the past, FGM was carried out to reduce a woman’s libido. A sexually liberated individual was deemed obscene in an era where a woman’s value was reduced to her chastity.

As such, FGM was believed to be the only way to ensure a woman didn’t have premarital sex and would stay faithful to her husband upon marriage.

While that may sound crazy today, society still shames women who take charge of their sexuality. In Singapore, sex ed still teaches us sex should only be for bearing children (abstinence first!), not our own pleasure. So the idea of using FGM to reduce libido isn’t too far-fetched.

Like many parents who carry out the procedure on their children today, Ria’s parents rationalised the kind of FGM done—a small snip of the clit or clitoral hood—is “not as big of a deal” as compared to the complete removal of the clitoris in the past.

And there lies the problem.

The pointless mutilation of a woman’s body from infancy is downplayed to “not a big deal”. It condones unconsented violence against women and normalises the idea of women not living on their own terms.

This mentality is especially damaging when it keeps women out of power by controlling their bodies. While keeping women in line may not be the explicit intention of FGM in Singapore, the practice reinforces traditional systems of power.

Women are raised to treat their own body as taboo, to be timid and not bold. They’re taught from young that their bodies are not their own. The patriarchy is maintained as young girls are influenced to grow up submissive to authority.

It might be just a little snip, but the underlying implications on society are huge.

Female Genital Mutilation Today

While FGM sounds intolerable, I’m not saying it should be banned. If an adult woman decides to keep up the tradition for herself, she should be able to. Likewise, men should be allowed to choose whether to undergo circumcision as well.

While it’s important to respect cultural practices, it eventually boils down to consent.

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Cover image: Source