FGM in Indonesia: Discussions From a Social-Cultural and Health Perspective

22 September 2015

haring experiences, good practices and identifying the challenges and opportunities to eliminate female genital mutilation and cutting in Indonesia were some of the main issues addressed during an international seminar hosted by UNFPA Indonesia in Jakarta on Thursday.


“Global elimination of female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C) is one of the targets under Goal 5 of the recently agreed Sustainable Development Goals and seeks to achieve gender equality and empowerment for all women and girls,” explained UNFPA Representative Mr. Jose Ferraris during his opening address.


Nafissatou J. Diop, Senior Advisor and Coordinator of the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Program on FGM/C: Accelerating Change – the largest global programme to accelerate the abandonment of FGM – shared global perspectives and lessons learned from the 17 African countries where the programme is currently active.


“More than 140 million girls and women worldwide have experienced female genital mutilation,” she explained. “It is most common in 29 countries in Africa, some countries in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. But a growing population in the 29 countries [in Africa where FGM occurs] means the number of girls and women cut will increase even if prevalence levels decline.”


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Dr. Nafissatou J. Diop from UNFPA’s Gender, Culture and Human Rights Branch, shares good practices and global perspectives from the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on FGM/C in Jakarta.


The global programme, which also supports regional and global initiatives, has successfully implemented a human rights based and culturally sensitive approach to ending FGM/C, with a focus on three major outcomes – improved policy and legal environment for the elimination of FGM/C, increased quality of related healthcare, protection, legal and social services and increased acceptance of the elimination of the social norm upholding FGM/C.


If current trends continue, UNFPA expects 15 million additional girls between the ages of 15 to 19 will be subjected to it by 2030. In 2012, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 67/146 which opposes and seeks to eliminate FGM/C or female circumcision – a practice of cutting part or the entire exterior of the female genitalia without basic medical reasons.


Prof. Jurnalis Uddin from YARSI University Indonesia presented findings from a study, which was supported by UNFPA Indonesia, aimed at determining whether the 2010 government regulation on female circumcision had been effective as a harm-reduction strategy. Women, men, midwives, traditional practitioners, religious leaders and Islamic jurists were approached to obtain a better understanding of their knowledge, attitudes and practices regarding FGM/C.  


“FGM/C can only be abolished by a grassroots approach which involves community education and takes into consideration all aspects of a particular culture and tries to work within that system of beliefs to eradicate this practice,” explained Prof. Ahmed Ragaa Abd El-Hameed Ragab from the International Islamic Center for Population Studies and Research (IICPSR) at Al Azhar University in Egypt during his presentation, where he discussed FGM/C from the context of health, religion and culture.


“Many countries have passed laws to to criminalize FGM/C , among them Egypt. However, legislation alone cannot solve the problem. The IICPSR at Al-Azhar University was founded in 1975 to disseminate the true stand of Islam regarding issues of reproductive health and explored the issue from an Islamic perspective and published several publications addressing it. In addition, IICPSR designed and implemented several programmes in Egypt and Somalia to eradicate this practice.”


UNICEF Indonesia Representative Ms. Gunilla Olsson said the agency was committed to working with the Government of Indonesia, civil society and children in promoting greater awareness about female genital cutting, engaging in more research and data analysis about its effects and investing in initiatives to end the practice.


“In Indonesia, more than half, or roughly 14 million, of the country’s girls below 12 years have undergone the practice of female genital cutting,” she said during her presentation, adding that gender equality would continue to be at the heart of UNICEF’s work. “When female genital cutting is abandoned by communities, millions of girls and women, their families and broader communities will lead healthier lives with more hopeful future prospects.”


Former first lady and human rights activist H.E. Madame Sinta Nuriyah Wahid discussed some of the traditional motives and Islam and FGM/C procedures in Indonesia during her keynote speech, adding that she hoped the seminar would start a conversation. 


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Left to right: WHO Environmental Advisor Mr. Sharad Adhikary, UNICEF Representative Ms. Gunilla Olson, UNFPA Representative Mr. Jose Ferraris, Ministry of Religious Affairs’ Director General of Islamic Community Guidance Prof. Dr. H.M.Machasin, and former first lady Ms. Sinta Nuriyah Wahid in Jakarta on 17 Sept.


Sinta, who raised four daughters with the late fourth president of Indonesia, Abdurrahman ‘Gus Dur’ Wahid, described how her children grew up in a traditionalpesantren (Islamic boarding school) environment. Their grandfather, Wahid Hasyim, was a religious affairs minister in the Sukarno era and their great-grandfather, Hasyim Asy’ari, founded Nahdlatul Ulama – currently the biggest religious organization in the country.


Despite this, none of Sinta’s daughters or six granddaughters was subjected to the treatment, which many in Indonesia strongly believe is an integral part of the faith.


“There really is no religious postulate for female circumcision, neither from the Koran nor from the prophet’s sayings,” explained Sinta during her keynote address, with various religious experts at the seminar concurring. “That is why I am confident that the nahdliyin [followers of NU] will not circumcise their daughters. I hope this seminar will contribute to ideas and recommendations of action to reduce the practice of female circumcision.”


Mr. Ferraris echoed the former first lady’s statement adding that dealing with FGM/C will rely on cultural change with cooperation from all stakeholders.


“That is why dialogue is so important. The perspectives we each bring need to be explored,and our working relationships further fostered, in order to support a process for the elimination of FGM/C in Indonesia.”




Other speakers included the Director General of Islamic Community Guidance from the Ministry of Religious Affairs, Prof. Dr. H. M. Machasin, M.A., the Director of Occupational Health in the Directorate of Nutrition, Child and Maternal Health from the Ministry of Health, Dr. Muchtaruddin Mansyur, Dr. Ir. Pribudiarta Nur MM., Deputy of Child Protection, Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection. There were also representatives from the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment, Ministry of Law and Human Rights, the National Population and Family Planning Board (BKKBN), the National Commission on Violence Against Women and the National Commission on Child Protection.