For decades, female genital mutilation (FGM) has been practiced in Sri Lanka. However, to those outside the practicing communities, this information elicits shock and disbelief. Secrecy about FGM in Sri Lanka is both imposed and internalized. Women who have experienced FGM strongly fear retaliation for speaking out. There is a lack of freedom to discuss, question and explore alternative views within practicing communities.
In December 2017 a news story broke the public silence on FGM, opening a contentious debate. Spokespersons for some sections of the Muslim communities in Sri Lanka confirmed the practice of cutting but have taken pains to make a distinction between FGM and “female circumcision”. They argue that what happens in Sri Lanka is “just a nick” of a girl’s clitoris that does not constitute mutilation. This distinction is not recognized by the World Health Organization ; the types of FGM it classifies include forms described as “just a nick”.
Based on personal testimonies of women, our work shows that FGM is practiced within the Moor, Malay and Dawoodi Bohra ethnic communities in Sri Lanka.
The practice appears to vary regionally, and there are clerics who denounce FGM, those who promote it, and also those that say it is mandatory. This means there are also sections of the communities abandoning the practice, with some reporting that FGM is diminishing with each generation and could possibly die out. Some women are opting to not get it done to their daughters or pretend to have it done to save face within their families and communities.