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Curtailing ‘Depravity’ in Dagestan With FGM?

Muslim Leader Says FGM Necessary to Curb Girls’ Sexuality

Sexually depraved behavior among girls is rampant, if you listen to a Muslim authority of Russia’s North Caucasus, Ismail Berdiev. The good news is that, according to him, there is a simple fix: just subject them all to female genital mutilation (FGM) and they’ll retire to their intended role of procreation, without the distractions of any sexual nonsense.

Two girls play ball in a mountain village of Dagestan in Russia's North Caucasus region, August 20, 2007. © 2007 Reuters

“We need to circumcise all women to end depravity on earth and reduce sexuality…. God created women to give birth to children and raise children,” said Berdiev, the mufti and chairman of the North Caucasus Muslim Coordinating Center, responding to a new report from the nongovernmental Russian Justice Initiative. The report raised concern about the incidence of FGM in some Dagestani villages, where local residents justify FGM as “traditional” and “Islamic.” While Berdiev acknowledged that Islamic law doesn’t require female circumcision, he nevertheless voiced fervent approval of it.

When he was criticized on social media, a prominent Russian Orthodox Christian priest chimed in on Facebook, encouraging Berdiev to stand strong, echoing the view that women’s and girls’ bodies are intended for childbearing. He supported the call for FGM to curb girls’ sexual tendencies, noting, however, that Orthodox Christian girls needn’t undergo the procedure “because they’re not promiscuous.”

Both preachers need a crash course in the facts about FGM, which involves removing part or all of the female genitalia. The United Nation’s position is unequivocal: FGM constitutes torture or ill-treatment, child abuse and an “extreme form of discrimination against women.” According to the World Health Organization, the practice has no health benefits and may lead to life-threatening complications, long-term health problems, and even death, as well as depression and post-traumatic stress.

Nor does FGM eliminate “depravity,” as Berdiev claimed, which is really a veiled reference to female sexuality. His comment surged through media and social networks, compelling the All Russia Council of Muftis to flag that FGM is “completely alien to Islamic ideology.” Berliev hurried to explain away his remarks as a “joke.” But FGM is no laughing matter. Religious leaders in Dagestan appear prepared to sacrifice the physical and mental health – and lives – of girls in the interest of controlling their bodies and choices.

Girls everywhere have the right to life, health, and bodily integrity, as well as freedom from violence and inhuman treatment, all of which FGM undermines. Since these comments started a ruckus, a Russian parliamentarian proposed a draft law banning the practice nationwide. By thrusting an often-taboo subject into Dagestan’s public realm, the mufti and the priest unwittingly helped garner support for an end to FGM, and respect of the girls’ rights they were trying to curtail. If such measures move forward, the girls and women of Dagestan will have the last laugh.

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