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At that age, it didn’t occur to me to ask if any women I knew had been cut, because there were never any ritual feasts.
Later, I would discover that this female genital cutting, as it happened historically and today, has undergone various changes and yet, many aspects of this ritual remained the same.
However, there exists scarce literature on the beginnings of FGC in this area.
The most informative source on the incidence of FGC in Southeast Asia can be found in a chapter of a recent anthology about Muslim women’s rights.
The World Health Organisation has four classifications of FGM, with first and final category describing the kind of procedures going on in Southeast Asia.[i] Others use the term ‘female circumcision’ (FC) or ‘female genital cutting’ (FGC) to maintain a sense of neutrality.
However, I feel that the term ‘female circumcision’ is also not technically accurate, because circumcision means ‘to cut around’, which is overwhelmingly the method of male foreskin removal.
These procedures were often done on girls as they reached puberty, though there was a trend by the 1980s to lower the age to a few weeks old.[ii] While there is a much debate about FGC as experienced in the African continent, the literature on the subject generally disregards the ritual as practiced in Southeast Asia.
When I was about six years old and attending a kenduri, or ritual feast, for two male cousins who had just been circumcised, I whispered to my mother, “Are girls circumcised too?
The royal families of Java also employed a non-Arabic word for FGC such as kres or tetesan (‘pricking’).
Among the orthodox Muslims, the term sunat perempuan or khitan perempuan (‘female circumcision’) is more commonly used, until today.
” Growing up in Singapore in the 1990s, boys were commonly circumcised before puberty (around eight or nine) – making it seem like a rite of passage into adulthood.
The six year-old me observed the fuss and attention they got: they were not allowed to eat certain foods, they could only bear to wear a kain sarong for up to two weeks due to the pain, and had to be fanned at night to keep the wounds dry.