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JAKARTA, 14 December 2016: Since it was first commenced in early year 2000 up until now, effort to eliminate Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting have yet to show meaningful progress. To date, it is widely observed that the social, cultural and religious views, that preserve this harmful practice, still prevail in communities across Indonesia. Moving forward, women’s rights researchers and activists, called for stronger synergy of multisectoral actors with improved advocacy strategy for a stronger policy and concrete actions to end FGM/C.

FGM/C is prevalent in many communities in Indonesia and practiced by people from all walks of life. “I know a doctor who performed FGM/C on his wife, believing that the practice is necessary for her to get to heaven when she dies,” said child rights activist/researcher Hadi Utomo. He was one of six senior women’s and child’s rights activists and researchers, appeared as expert speakers at a UNFPA-supported consultation meeting on FGM/C elimination.

Another study done in 2010 revealed that 44% of hospital and clinics provide Type 1 FGM/C (partial cutting, pricking, scarping) and the remaining perform Type 4 (other harmful practice on female genital organ, including symbolic ones). Type 1 and 4 FGM/C are most commonly practiced in Indonesia. A small study of 105 women with at least 1 daughter conducted in 2013 showed that 74% of the women, have their daughters circumcised. The reasons given by the remaining women who did not circumcise their babies are that FGM/C is not a tradition in their hometown, no permissionfromhusband and they have previously received FGM advocacy message, explained Atashendartini Habsjah, member ofthe Indonesia’s Planned Parrenthood (PKBI) executive board.

“Socio-cultural-religious values and traditions are indeed serious challenge to address. Social resistance to FGM/C elimination is high. This is why support and commitment of all actors are very important,” said another speaker, Kharirah Ali from National Commission on VAW.

Ending FGM/C will continue to be a challenge so long as the government does not make its stance on FGM/C clear. “If it is a violation then there should be clear mention on the punishment,” explained Hadi.

There have also been initiatives that unexpectedly further the spread of FGM/C, such as the deployment of midwives from Java to Kalimantan and the medicalization of FGM/C for ‘safer and hygienic’ procedure, as a harm reduction approach. In rural communities in the past, it was done by traditional birth attendants (TBAs), but more recently, also performed by midwives or by TBAs under the supervision of a midwive. Some hospitals and delivery clinics also include FGM/C and ear pircing as part of their post-delivery service package.

Public awareness on FGM/C as a form of violence against women and control over women’s bodies is lacking. It is a common, socially-accepted practice,done mostly to newborns, also happen to girls and in rare cases to adult women,with an aim to protect purity, control women’s sexual drive, preventing them from behaving ‘naughty’ or ‘wild’, to uphold family’s and community’s honor and to ensure heaven (because they are pure).

Regardless of who perform it and the purpose of practicing it, FGM/C has ho health benefit and in fact, may posepotential serious health risks. “The practice is wrong and should not continue,” said UNFPA Representative Dr. Annette Sachs Robertson, stressing that FGM/C is rights, health and women’s empowerment issues that countries around the world are continuously working to address and as part of its commitment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Moving forward, concrete strategy for improved Information-Education-Communication (IEC) materials on FGM/C should be developed said Rini Handayani, Assistant Deputy Minister for Child Protectionwith the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection (MOWECP). IEC is key to raise awarenesson FGM/C risks, women’s rights and health with supporting religious teachings and eventually encouraging behavior change. The IEC needs to be specifically tailored for specific target groups from various sectors: education, health and religious affairs, including profession- and religious-based organizations/associations, like doctors and midwives, religious and community leaders.“Improved IEC materials would be useful to promote awareness on rights issues and guide health workers and religious leaders in their works dealing with community members,” explained rights activist Antarini Pratiwi.

Referring to the above study findings, Atashendartini said special educational effort targetting husbands is crucial because husbands often have the final say on whether or not to circumcise their daughters.

Various forums like Friday prayers, involving the ulamas and men; women’s and community gatherings and Qu’ran recital at the community level are good opportunity to raise awareness. “We need to work closely with Ministries of Religious Affairs, Education, Health and MOWECP, as the lead agency in FGM/C elimination and work to promote a community-based approach for integrated child protection where all community elements are trained to educate the public on health and rights issues,” said Commissioner from the Indonesian Child Protection Committee – acting as the moderator of the discussion, Maria Ulfa Ansor.