Fighting female genital mutilation and cutting in Asia

Strive: Toward a more just, sustainable future

30-11-2021 • 32 min

Welcome to Strive, a podcast by IPS News. My name is Marty Logan.

I suspect that most of you have at least heard of female genital mutilation, or FGM. It’s a practice that happens in numerous African countries, in which girls’ genitalia are removed or cut, for cultural or religious reasons. FGM has been condemned globally for years and campaigners continue working to end it.

But what might surprise you is that FGM happens in Asia too. And not just in one or two countries. According to today’s guest, Keshia Mahmood from Malaysia-based non-profit ARROW, the practice occurs in as many as 13 countries in both Southeast Asia and South Asia. That shocked me. I think I’m pretty well informed, and I lived in Malaysia for four years, but I didn’t know about FGM happening there. Interestingly, the United Nations joint programme to eliminate FGM works in 17 countries, but none of them are in Asia.

Keshia explains why FGM in Asia — which she refers to as FGM/C, or female genital mutilation or cutting — has been so under-exposed, but how that started changing after its elimination was included in one of the Sustainable Development Goals, whose deadline is 2030. Still, ending it will be a huge challenge, in part because practising communities believe that it is a much less invasive version of FGM than those performed in African countries. Another impediment is the growing medicalization of the practice, which lends it an air of legitimacy.

Keshia also discusses a new initiative co-led by ARROW called the Asia Network to end FGM/C, and some of the avenues it is pursuing to support partners working on the ground to end the practice. They have their work cut out for them: every year more than 1 million girls in Asia are cut in the name of culture and religion.


Asia Network to end Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting

Sustainable Development Goal 5.3

United Nations joint programme on FGM

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