Female genital cutting (khatna) is alive and well in the United States, even though it was outlawed in 1996. (“It Happens Here,” by Tasneem Raja, Mother Jones, July, August, 2017 ,pgs. 13-15.) It survives because women, largely of the Muslim Bohras sect, (Click) protect the practice with a wall of silence, even though they are unsure about the reason for the ritual. As the procedure makes intercourse painful, some say khatna prevents a girl from becoming sexually promiscuous. Others believe it protects her from bad germs, even though the World Health Organization insists female mutilation has no positive health benefits. (Ibid pg. 15.)
One organization, Sahiyo, (Friends) conducted a global study among Bohras women between the ages of 18 – 45. Eighty percent of those contacted wanted to see the practice ended. Still they comply, fearing to become outcasts. Surely, women mutilating girls and perpetuating a procedure of which they disapprove is a form of insanity.
Some have made appeals to their spiritual leaders. So far, these men have refused to outlaw khatna, though the Koran makes no mention of it. Surely their silence is a form of “abusive power.” (Ibid, pg. 15) Writer Tasneem Raja, herself a victim, believes until men rule differently, the mutilations will continue.
After reading Raja’s article, I’m forced to ask why women must wait for men to rescue them. The tradition, whether supported by men or women, is a cruel form of misogyny, one that gives the perpetrators control over a female’s body. A violent expression of power, khatna is tantamount to rape.
Rebecca Solnit, in an essay wrote recently, “There are two kinds of borders: those that limit where we can go and those that limit what people can do to us.” (“Occupied Territory,” by Rebecca Solnit, Harper’s, July 2017, pg. 5) A third exists: borders where the mind sets imagined limits.
American Bohras women have the capacity to free themselves. It comes at a price. Freedom always comes at a price. But in this country, where cultures meet, those who seek change will find sisters willing to help. Tell us your stories. We will listen. Hold out your hand. Ours will find yours.
(First published 6/30/17)