Saza Faradila was 22 years old when she found out that her genitals had been cut off when she was a child, part of a silent tradition in Singapore’s minority Muslim community.
The Asian city-state is modern and cosmopolitan, but social values are conservative and female genital mutilation, which is banned in most parts of the world, is not illegal.
Although this tradition is widely accepted in the ethnic Muslim minority, many people do not realize that they have been subject to it until they are teenagers or adults.
“I felt very betrayed,” Saza said, only to learn that he had resorted to this method when he protested to a young relative about the same thing.
“I was very shocked and I felt very violated,” the 26-year-old told AFP.
“He said you were cut off because I didn’t want you to commit adultery, because it’s clean – and because it’s part of religion.”
The Malay term in Singapore, known as “Sanat Perimpuan”, often involves cutting the clitoris or cultural hood.
The practice is less common than elsewhere, but local activists – who like to use the term “female genital mutilation” – have condemned the violation and are campaigning to end it.
Saza and a group of mostly Muslim women use Instagram and pamphlets to dispel superstitions, and run workshops to help passers-by.
But following a taboo subject is fraught with difficulties.
The workers have been accused of not being good Muslims, while some members did not tell their families about their involvement to avoid tension.
And she says the barrier to the Malay community’s open discussion of issues such as women’s sexuality makes it even more difficult to deal with.
The true scale of female genital mutilation worldwide is unclear, but the United Nations estimates that at least 200 million girls and women today have undergone the procedure in 31 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
Some Muslims believe it is important for girls’ health and moral development, or accept it as part of a tradition.
They think it reduces a woman’s desire, and reduces her chances of infidelity.
However, the World Health Organization warns that the practice has no health benefits, is dangerous, violates girls’ rights and is “an extreme form of gender discrimination”.
There are no official figures on how common it is in Singapore, but 75% of Muslim women surveyed by Saza’s group have undergone genital mutilation.
Ethnic Malay Muslims make up about 10% of Singapore’s 5.7 million people.
Singapore’s Islamic Religious Council, which provides religious guidance to Muslims in the city-state, has spoken out against the practice.
A spokesman told AFP: “We are in a position to avoid any kind of procedure that has been medically proven to cause harm, including genital mutilation in women.”
But there is little sign of a departure from practice in Singapore, and no official ban remains.
Punishment, working in the education sector, believes the government has chosen to say little in public on the issue because it is acting cautiously so as not to disturb the local Muslim community or international rights groups.
Health officials did not respond to questions from AFP.
Activists are not pushing for a ban on the practice out of fear, but health officials want to make it public that it is not medically necessary and that the Islamic Council say it is a religious obligation. do not have.
However, it is difficult to change old habits.
Zaza Ali, a member of the Saza group, went through the procedure as a young child and, despite social expectations, refused to keep his two daughters through it.
But the 59-year-old was unable to stop his siblings from taking his nieces and nephews for it.
“It’s a meaningless gesture that has nothing to do with the way our girls grow up,” she said.
For Zobi, there is a deep pain – she feels that her clitoral hoodcut has robbed her of something forever.
“I will never know what it’s like to be perfect or pure,” Zobi said. “It has been taken away from me.”
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