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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Female Circumcision Decree Must Be Revoked: NGOs

June 23, 2011
The Jakarta Globe
Dessy Sagita

Hundreds of activists demanded on Thursday that Indonesia's Health Ministry revoke a 2010 ministerial decree regulating the proper procedure for female circumcision.

“The decree is extremely discriminatory, we want it to be revoked immediately,” Ratna Batara Munti from the Federation of the Women’s Legal Aid Foundation (LBH Apik) said.

More than 170 NGOs, including Amnesty International, and activists signed a joint statement asking the ministry to revoke the decree, which they said contradicted a 2006 circular from the director general of community health prohibiting health workers from performing female circumcisions.

“Female circumcision will damage women’s sexual pleasure. We need to stop it,” Ratna said.

Further, Masruchah, the deputy chairwoman of the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan), said female circumcision was not medically recommended because it could damage reproductive health.

“Female circumcision is an abuse that has to be stopped. The discussion about this issue has been going on for 32 years. It has to stop now,” she said.

Siti Musdah Mulia, a progressive Islamic scholar from the Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace, said she had conducted a survey to track female genital mutilation in Indonesia. “What I found was horrible. There are some female circumcision procedures that cut the whole clitoris. [Practioners] thought the more they cut, the more religious [the girls] become,” she said.

The Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) has issued a fatwa that female circumcision was allowed but not obligatory. However, it also stated that prohibiting the procedure was not allowed.

But the ministry’s director of mothers’ health, Ina Hernawati, said the protest was unjustified because the ministry had never supported female circumcision. “Read the decree carefully, there’s nothing there saying we are supporting female genitalia mutilation or any kind of abuse,” she said.

Ina said the decree was issued because no health worker in Indonesia has received any formal training about how to perform female circumcision and the decree provided guidance on how to conduct it safely if necessary.

“We do not condone the practice. If parents come to midwives, we ask the midwives to explain that medically female circumcision is useless,” she said.

However, she said, many times parents insisted on getting their daughter circumcised for religious or traditional reasons.

“In such case, we prefer the circumcision were done by a trained health worker rather than some random shaman or traditional healer, which may not be safe,” she said.

Ina denied the decree legitimized abuse against women. She said people often associated female circumcision with genitalia mutilation. “They’re totally different. Circumcising is merely scratching a piece of skin.”