KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 15 — Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail today maintained the assertion of the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry she heads that female circumcision is a cultural practice in Malaysia.
She rejected comparisons with female circumcision as practised elsewhere, especially those in African nations that have been globally condemned as female genital mutilation (FGM).
“That one, we are in discussions with the Ministry of Health, because so far, it is actually something that is cultural.
“We’ve had this since before, and this is one of the things they actually say that we’re not the same. The African, all the mutilation thing, but we will discuss and look at it. If it doesn’t give any benefit, then we should do something,” Dr Wan Azizah, who is also deputy prime minister, told reporters in Parliament.
She was referring to the explanation given by Malaysian officials to delegates at the United Nations Periodic Review recently, defending the practice.
At the November 9 meeting, ministry officials denied the country practised FGM, while defending infant female circumcision as “a cultural obligation”, after delegations from other countries raised questions on the issue.
The denial came even after Malaysia was heavily criticised in February by Muslim-majority committee members at the 69th session of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw) for allowing the harmful practice of FGM, Suhakam said.
The practice is now viewed as un-Islamic even by some Muslim countries, the commission pointed out.
Female circumcision is considered FGM by the UN World Health Organisation, but Muslim groups disagree with this.
In Malaysia, the most prevalent form of FGM among Muslims is Type I, where midwives or doctors remove the clitoral hood, usually when the girls are still infants or children. Some practise Type IV, a ritual form that includes pricking or nicking the genitals.
After the denial, the National Human Rights Commission Malaysia (Suhakam) issued a scathing statement criticising the ministry, accusing Putrajaya of misleading the United Nations Periodic Review about the practice of female circumcision in the country, categorised as FGM worldwide.
The commission said the representative from the Ministry of Women, Family and Community gave an “unconvincing and misleading” explanation when she defended the practice before the international community in Geneva, Switzerland.
Suhakam added that the move could potentially damage the country’s global standing on the issue of women’s rights.