Bodies Not Their Own: The Wave of FGM in Russia

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SEATTLE — Female genital mutilation (FGM), the practice of altering or injuring female genitals for non-medical reasons, is recognized by most as a major health concern for girls and women and condemned by the World Health Organization. The painful, unnecessary procedure is frequently performed in parts of Africa and the Middle East, and renewed reports of FGM in Russia has caused a wave of concern across global health and human rights organizations.

FGM as a Practice

FGM usually includes the removal or severe altering of a woman’s sexual organs in the hope that it will eliminate promiscuity and sexual desire. It is usually performed on girls aged 3 to 15 but has even been recorded in infancy. FGM is so widely discredited because it offers no health benefits to women, but it is associated with many risks, such as extreme pain, hemorrhaging, infection due to lack of sanitary tools, issues with urination and menstruation, childbirth complications and even death.

Globally, more than 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone FGM in 30 countries across the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Annually, 3 million girls are at risk for the procedure. Though multiple world health and human rights coalitions have condemned the practice of FGM, there are still several countries without specific laws banning the procedure. Russia falls into this category.

In 2016, rumors of FGM in Russia abounded until they were finally verified by Mufti Ismail Berdiev, a Russian Orthodox priest and rabbi. When Berdiev was asked to comment on the rumors that he and other rabbis in the region supported FGM, he stated that the procedure was a “healthy custom,” insisting on its necessity to “reduce women’s sexuality.”

The initial reports of FGM in Russia began after the Russian Justice Initiative released documentation called “Production of Genital Mutilation of Girls in the Republic of Dagestan.” The report states that FGM procedures are being performed in remote areas of Dagestan and is the first documentation of the mutilations of that region.

Best Klinik

Best Klinik, a private clinic in Moscow, has recently been a source of FGM controversy. The clinic has been openly advertising “female circumcision” procedures under the guise of “medical necessity.” When questioned, Best Klinik insisted that it only promotes the procedure for adult women “who have a corresponding referral from a doctor,” but many doubt that claim.

The initial advertisement for Best Klinik offered FGM procedures for girls between the ages of five and 12, according to Meduza, a Russian online newspaper. Once the story on Best Klinik broke, the organization quickly removed the advertisements from its website.

As FGM is illegal in the U.K. and regarded by the United Nations as a human rights violation, it is highly unlikely that a legitimate doctor would recommend such a dangerous procedure, even for adult women, further contradicting Best Klink’s claim of running a safe and medically necessary procedure.

Pushing Back

As news of Best Klinik’s advertisement for FGM broke, many took to social media to express outrage.

One social media post by sexual education blogger got the attention of Twitter when she admonished the use of the term “female circumcision,” stating, “Female circumcision is not the same as male circumcision… It is equal to castration.”

Aside from the outrage on social media by citizens and experts alike, there has been a large amount of push-back from women’s and human rights activists. In addition to the official report on FGM in Russia in 2016, the Russian human rights organization, Stichting Justice Initiative (SJI) has been documenting cases of FGM in young girls in the North Caucasus, part of the Dagestan region, since 2016.

After Best Klinik’s procedures were reported on in 2018, multiple human rights lawyers are banding together to ask the Russian Prosecutor General to formally investigate the clinic. It is the hope of many that the Prosecutor General will take the accusations seriously and adhere to the stance of the United Nations on FGM.

In 2016, the report on FGM in Dagestan resulted in Maria Maksakova-Igenbergs, a member of the Russian parliament, to introduce a bill that would make FGM in Russia illegal. While the first version of the bill did not succeed in becoming law, the movement to criminalize FGM is gaining the necessary traction to end the practice altogether.

– Holli Flanagan
Photo: Unsplash

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