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MOH Must Take Responsibility For Raising Awareness About Female Genital Mutilation, Malaysian NGOs Tell Cedaw

MOH must take responsibility for promoting the message that there are no medical benefits to FGM, said Rozana Isa, executive director of Sisters in Islam during yesterday’s Cedaw meeting. Regardless of what the practice is called in Malaysia, “at the end of the day, we are still pricking and harming the genitalia of female babies,” she said.

Screenshot of Rozana Isa, executive director of SIS, speaking at the informal meeting between Cedaw and NGOs yesterday during the 88th Cedaw session in Geneva, Switzerland.

KUALA LUMPUR, May 21 – The Ministry of Health (MOH) must take on the responsibility of promoting the message that Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has no medical benefits, said Rozana Isa, executive director of Sisters in Islam, during an informal meeting between non-governmental organisations and human rights institutions, with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw) last night in Malaysian time.

Committee member Bandana Rana, raised her concerns about the practice of FGM in Malaysia, during the Q&A session saying: “I remember the last time Malaysia reported, the situation was quite bad, and it seems that there has been no improvement at all”.

She also asked if the government has a data collection mechanism on FGM and what recommendations the NGOs would have for the Malaysian government.

In her response, Rozana said there was no data collection on FGM even during NGO engagements with government bodies. “The burden seems to be put on the NGOs to collect data, which we certainly do not have the resources (to do).”

The most recent statistic available is derived from a study conducted in 2012, which found that about 93 per cent of Muslim women in the country surveyed have been circumcised.

Rozana said that the Malaysian NGOs’ recommendation was that the government should take on the responsibility of addressing the fact that FGM has no medical benefit.

“I think that message should be promoted by the Ministry of Health. They should take responsibility because I think even with international bodies that have to do with obstetrics and gynecology, they have also put out this position that there are no health or medical benefits to FGM,” Rozana said.

She added that there is still an existing fatwa in the country. The fatwa, which was issued in May 2009 by the Malaysian Fatwa Committee of the National Council on Islamic Religious Affairs (JAKIM) declared female circumcision to be obligatory (wajib) for all Muslim women in Malaysia.

In an interview with BFM earlier this year, Rozana said that prior to 2009, the fatwa on female circumcision was that the practice was sunat (not obligatory). 

At last night’s Cedaw meeting, Rozana said that while there have been conversations about amending the fatwa, nothing has materialised. She added that Malaysia can also take some lessons from Indonesia where very specific terminology is used to describe FGM.

In the interview with BFM, Rozana said that the issue of FGM was discussed during Indonesia’s second Congress of Indonesian Women Ulama (KUPI) in 2022.

KUPI is an event that brings together female Islamic scholars throughout the country to discuss and challenge practices that are being done in the name of the religion, that are harmful to women and girls.

“They (KUPI) have come to the point of naming it even more specifically, because these terms, when you talk about it as female circumcision, sunat perempuan, khitan perempuan, it doesn’t actually spell out what it means,” said Rozana in the BFM interview. 

“What they have done is to use the term more specifically to say that it is a practice with regards to pemotongan dan pelukaan genitalia perempuan (the cutting or injuring of female genitalia)

“And for them, they have taken the position that pemotongan dan pelukaan genitalia perempuan, without any medical reasons, should not be carried out.

“So they have recognised the fact that when these terms are used, there’s a cloud over it.” By zeroing in on what the practice involves, she said, “there’s no metaphors, there’s no vagueness about it.”

The point was important to bring up because in their last report to Cedaw, the Malaysian government said that the use of a single terminology to conflate FGM and female circumcision is a misnomer, said Rozana.

“At the end of the day, we are still pricking and harming the genitalia of female babies,” she told Cedaw.

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