A festive Sunday morning in Indonesia in 2006, with coconut cakes and Javanese music and lots of women in hijabs and lipstick. They were there to chop up the genitals of 248 little girls.
It is April 2006 and the occasion is a mass ceremony to perform sunat perempuan or “female circumcision” that has been held annually since 1958 by the Bandung-based Yayasan Assalaam, an Islamic foundation that runs a mosque and several schools. The foundation holds the event in the lunar month of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, and pays parents 80,000 rupiah (£6) and a bag of food for each daughter they bring to be cut.
The foundation pays the parents to slice up their daughters’ genitals.
At the mass ceremony, I ask the foundation’s social welfare secretary, Lukman Hakim, why they do it. His answer not only predates the dawn of religion, it predates human evolution: “It is necessary to control women’s sexual urges,” says Hakim, a stern, bespectacled man in a fez. “They must be chaste to preserve their beauty.”
Otherwise, they get all crusted over with ugly because of the oozing disgusingness of women’s sexual urges.
…far from scaling down, the problem of FGM in Indonesia has escalated sharply. The mass ceremonies in Bandung have grown bigger and more popular every year. This year, the gathering took place in February. Hundreds of girls were cut. The Assalaam foundation’s website described it as “a celebration”. Anti-FGM campaigners have proved ineffective against a rising tide of conservatism.
Although Indonesia is not a country where FGM is widely reported, the practice is endemic. Two nationwide studies carried out by population researchers in 2003 and 2010 found that between 86 and 100% of households surveyed subjected their daughters to genital cutting, usually before the age of five. More than 90% of adults said they wanted the practice to continue.
Between 6 and 100%. I wouldn’t have guessed that if you’d asked me beforehand. That’s almost up there with Egypt. It’s also in the most populous majority-Muslim country – the third most populated country on earth. That’s a lot of chopped-up women.