Indonesian authorities must immediately repeal the newly-issued government regulation permitting female genital mutilation, and instead enact specific legislation with appropriate penalties prohibiting all forms of the practice.
The new regulation legitimises the practice of female genital mutilation and authorises certain medical professionals, such as doctors, midwives and nurses, to perform it. The new regulation defines this practice as “the act of scratching the skin covering the front of the clitoris, without hurting the clitoris”. The procedure includes “a scratch on the skin covering the front of clitoris, using the head of a single use sterile needle” (Article 4.2 (g)). According to the new regulation, the act of female genital mutilation can only be conducted with the request and consent of the person concerned, parents, and/or guardians.
This new regulation by the Ministry of Health (No. 1636/MENKES/PER/XI/2010) concerning female genital mutilation, issued in November 2010, runs counter to the government’s steps to enhance gender equality and combat discrimination against women in all its forms. It violates a number of Indonesian laws, including Law No. 7/1984 on the ratification of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); Law No. 5/1998 on the ratification of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT); Law No. 39/1999 on Human Rights; Law No. 23/2002 on Child Protection; Law No. 23/2004 on the Elimination of Domestic Violence; and Law No. 23/2009 on Health. It also runs counter to a 2006 government circular, No. HK.00.07.1.3. 1047a, signed by the Director General of Community Health, which specifically warned about the negative health effects of female genital mutilation on women.
Female genital mutilation constitutes a form of violence against women which should be eradicated. Where the state fails to effectively challenge these practices, it reinforces the perception that others are entitled to control a woman’s or a girl’s sexuality, that is, to decide on her behalf under what circumstances she should (or should not) engage in sexual activity. Amnesty International is concerned that this regulation condones and encourages female genital mutilation, a practice which inflicts pain and suffering on women and girls, and hence violates the absolute prohibition of torture and ill-treatment. Female genital mutilation also encourages discriminatory stereotypes about women’s sexuality.
As documented in a 2010 report, Left without a choice: Barriers to reproductive health in Indonesia, Amnesty International was told by many women and girls that they chose female genital mutilation for their own baby girl in recent years. The practice is generally undertaken by a traditional birth attendant within the first six weeks after the baby girl is born. The women said they had asked that their baby girl have female genital mutilation performed for religious reasons. Other reasons women cited ranged from wanting to ensure the girl’s “cleanliness” (the external female genitalia are considered dirty) and avoiding diseases; to perpetuating cultural or local practices; or seeking to regulate or suppress the girls’ urge towards “sexual activity” during adulthood. Some women described the procedure as being merely a “symbolic scratch”, while in other cases they explained that it consisted of cutting a small piece of the clitoris. Many women interviewed agreed that there would be some bleeding as a result.
Irrespective of the extent of the procedure, the practice of female genital mutilation highlights discriminatory stereotypes about female genitalia being “dirty” or degraded; that women are not entitled to make their own choices about sexuality in the same way as men; and that women and girls can only be fully dignified in their religious practice if their bodies are altered, hence that there is something inherently wrong about women’s bodies. Attitudes which denigrate women because of their actual or perceived sexuality are often used to justify violence against women.
In its 2007 concluding observations, the CEDAW Committee recommended that Indonesia develop a plan of action to eliminate the practice of female genital mutilation, including implementing public awareness-raising campaigns to change the cultural perceptions connected with it; and provide education regarding the practice as a violation of the human rights of women and girls that has no basis in religion.
In its 2008 concluding observations, the UN Committee against Torture also recommended that Indonesia adopt all adequate measures to eradicate the persistent practice of female genital mutilation, including through awareness-raising campaigns in co-operation with civil society organizations.
As state party to CEDAW and CAT, the Indonesian authorities must immediately take the following steps as a matter of priority:
Repeal the Regulation of the Minister of Health No. 1636/MENKES/PER/XI/2010 concerning female circumcision;
Enact specific legislation with appropriate penalties prohibiting female genital mutilation; and
Implement public awareness-raising campaigns to change the cultural perceptions associated with female genital mutilation.