FGM does cause damage to clitoris, reveals study

Dr. Sujaat Vali heads the Lara Mother Healthcare Centre in Godhra  

A 56-year-old gynaecologist from Godhra has put to rest the debate on whether female genital cutting practised by the Dawoodi Bohra community causes harm. Dr. Sujaat Vali conducted an observational study on 20 women, who had undergone khatna or khafz, as it is known in the community, and found that all these patients had a varying degree of damage to their clitoris.

The community describes khatna as female circumcision, and argues it is a harmless cultural and religious practice, which entails a tiny excision on the skin of the prepuce. The prepuce is the fold of skin that surrounds the clitoris. Khatna is carried out mostly by untrained traditional cutters and rarely by health professionals, on girls as young as seven years old.

Dr. Vali, however, explained that it is almost impossible to cut the skin of the prepuce without affecting the clitoris as there is an extremely narrow space between the two. “Even the trained hand of a surgeon cannot achieve this. The traditional cutters, who have no clue about anatomy, can do even worse,” said the doctor, who has been a practising obstetrician and invitro fertilisation specialist for the last 29 years.

Dr. Vali examined 20 Bohra women, who came to him for other gynaecological issues, between July 2016 and January 2018. The patients’ consent was taken before he carried out his study.

His findings revealed that 30% (six) women had more than half of their clitoris cut. In the remaining patients, less than half of the clitoris was cut. “Therefore the size of the clitoris of women, who have undergone khatna, is smaller than those, who have not undergone the procedure. The damage varies,” said Dr. Vali, adding that all of these patients accepted that sex was not desirable to them due to an abnormal feeling. “These women have been my regular patients. Most of them are highly educated and are able to express what they feel,” he said.

Dr. Vali is a Dawoodi Bohra too, but has a progressive bend. His observations were quoted in the study ‘The Clitoral Hood- A Contested Site’, which was released by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor early this week.

Over the past few weeks, the Dawoodi Bohra Women’s Association for Religious Freedom, a group of women who support khatna, have started a nation-wide campaign to spread awareness of the difference between khatna or female circumcision and female genital mutilation (FGM).

“But the practice of khatna does tamper with women’s genitals. How is it different from mutilation?” asked Dr. Vali.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) classifies the practice as type 1 FGM wherein there is partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce (clitoridectomy). The WHO further distinguishes the variations as type Ia - removal of the clitoral hood or prepuce only, and type Ib - removal of the clitoris with the prepuce. By the WHO definition, the community practises type 1a form of FGM.

Mumbai-based gynaecologist Dr. Suchitra Pandit (who is not from the community) said clitoris is the most delicate and sensitive area of a woman’s body.

“It is richly covered with nerves. Even a minor nick can cause certain damage.”

Dr. Pandit also said that the injury heals with a fibrosis (thickening and scarring of the tissue), which results in infections, painful sex, and difficulty in child birth. “It can cause profuse bleeding if the dorsal artery to the clitoris gets cut accidentally,” said Dr. Pandit, who sees FGM as a human right violation.

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Printable version | Sep 19, 2021 11:41:02 PM |

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