By Nikita Ahuja
Jaha Dukureh is a survivor of Type III Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Her extraordinary journey spans from a forced child marriage to her becoming one of Time’s 100 influential leaders and an FGM activist. Confronting her past, her family, her culture, her religion, her country and its leaders, Jaha became the face of change in Gambia.
Female circumcision (depending upon the country or the ethnic group) is the removal of the clitoral hood and clitoral glans, removal of the inner labia, or removal of the inner and outer labia and closure of the vulva. In the last procedure, known as infibulation, a small hole is left for the passage of urine and menstrual fluid; the vagina is opened for intercourse and further for childbirth. It is an ancient belief that if a woman is not mutilated, she is not clean and cannot give birth. FGM is widespread in 28 countries in Africa alone. 130 million women live with its repercussions and approximately 6,000 girls are ‘cut’ every day. This painful ritual often results in severe bleeding and lethal blood infections. It also obliterates sexual pleasure for women.
Like most girls in Gambia, Jaha was circumcised when she was a week old. At the age of 15, Jaha was sent to New York for an arranged marriage with a man who was then in his 40’s. After experiencing severe pain during intercourse, she underwent a surgery to undo the infibulation, which was just as painful as getting cut. After her first marriage ended, she completed her graduation and started working. It was during this time that she came across other FGM survivors. Jaha realised that this practice was not limited to remote corners of the world, but was rampant in the US as well. Despite being born and raised in the United States, girls were taken back to their country of origin in order to get cut.
Rallying for a change
Jaha started questioning the modalities of ancient customs that were predating her religion and realized that this practice had to be stopped. She started a petition urging the Obama administration to conduct a study on FGM in the United States. A month later, the Obama administration agreed to examine the problem and draw up an action plan. In 2014, Jaha organised Gambia’s first FGM youth conference where veteran activists, prominent people from the UN and the government participated. She averred that FGM is not Sunnah (teaching of Prophet); the Prophet does not condone violence against women and FGM is violence against women. Eliminating the practice of FGM was not easy. She faced a lot of negativity, push backs and comments from her family and community because she was going against her culture and tradition. However, she approached the issue in a very respectful manner and was always cognizant not to look down on people or their beliefs. She focused her campaigning largely on the negative health effects of FGM. Finally, all her efforts came to fruition when in November 2015, the President of Gambia banned FGM.
An unfortunate reality
Female Genital Mutilation is an unfortunate reality in India. The Bohras (and not just the Dawoodi Bohras) along with other sects practise FGM in the country. There are no authentic statistics about the number of Indian victims, but activists claim that 80%-90% of Bohra girls are subjected to the process, sometimes at the hands of ill-equipped traditional circumcisers attending childbirth. Only Types I and IV are practised in India and the ritual is called Khatna.
The practice is criticized internationally for being prejudicial and amounting to brutality against girls. Many countries like Australia, USA and the United Kingdom have banned the practice. In India, Minister for Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi has recognized the practice as illegal under existing Indian laws. However, no law has been passed yet to ban FGM or Khatna.
Featured Image Source: Flickr
Stay updated with all the insights.
Navigate news, 1 email day.
Subscribe to Qrius