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Female genital mutilation in Singapore – more awareness needed

By Ghui

One very positive outcome of the rise of online media platforms in Singapore is in raising the awareness of certain issues in Singapore. Many people (myself included) would not have known about the existence of certain practices or policies had it not been for the many independent media platforms that have sprung up over the course of the last few years. Singaporeans are by and large able to draw their own conclusions. What they need is the ability to form an educated opinion based on the information they can access and that’s where the alternative media has stepped in to plug the gaps.

It is in that spirit that I would like to draw the attention of Singaporeans to the existence of a practice that many the world over have condemned as barbaric, backward and discriminatory towards females – Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

Just from what it is called, any discerning reader can make a pretty accurate guess as to what it entails but for the avoidance of doubt, FGM is is the partial or total removal of a girl’s external genitals. This is a practice that some cultures and religious groups practice although it has been proven medically that there are no health benefits to FGM. In fact FGM can have severe physical, emotional and mental repercussions.

Many countries in the developed world have outlawed this practice and so it comes as some surprise to me to see that girls from certain countries (such as Britain who has outlawed this practice for about 30 years) are being flown into Singapore for this procedure.

While the practice in Singapore is “more medicalised” – i.e. sterile, with proper sanitation and in a modern hospital setting – I wonder why so little information on the practice of FGM and the role Singapore plays in what is now being construed as an international issue is being highlighted to the public?

Reactions to this will of course be mixed. Some camps claim that this is required for certain religions while others claim that these certain religions (such as Islam) do not require this.

The objective of this piece is not to draw a conclusion on this issue but to inform the public that this practice exists in Singapore and that despite its existence, very few Singaporeans are aware of it.

Perhaps with awareness, there can come debate and discourse which can in turn lead to Singaporeans deciding what is acceptable and what is not within their society. A lot of anger has erupted of late – mostly after some form of revelation or other. While some reactions may have seemed disproportionate, a lot of this has to do with Singaporeans feeling like there is much that they do not know. This frustration is compounded by them feeling that they do not know what they do not know.

This feeling of helplessness is a disconcerting position for anyone to be in and the best way forward is for more constructive  investigative journalism to be done without fear of reprisal. This will facilitate the freedom of information and lead to a more mature and stable democracy with a government that is seen to be accountable.

Singaporeans should be empowered to determine what is best for their country. They will not be able to effectively do that until and unless they feel that they are getting all the information they need and want.

Image - scree capture from the BBC News website. More information on FGM is also available on AWARE's website.