Female genital cutting in Thailand
FGC practised in parts of Thailand
Orchid Project is continually learning of new places in the world where female genital cutting (FGC) is practised. This week’s blog focuses our attention on the majority Muslim provinces of Southern Thailand, as we were recently contacted via our website by a source (who wishes to remain anonymous) who told us that FGC is carried out where she lives. We draw on a first-hand narrative from this person, currently living in southern Thailand, as well as research conducted in the Satun province by medical anthropologist Dr Claudia Merli, to bring this issue to light.
Similarities between southern Thailand and Malaysia
Back in 2010 we reported on FGC occurring in Malaysia, and more recently we have learnt that there are similarities between the cultural context in which FGC is practised in Malaysia and that of southern Thailand. The southern Thai border provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani, Yala, Satun, and to a certain extent Trang, Songlkha, and Krabi provinces, share many cultural traits with the Malaysian states located just across the border. Here the native languages are dialects of Malay languages and the dominant religion is Islam, making this part of Thailand culturally distinct from the rest of the country. Traditional cultural practices in the region are highly valued, which may explain the continued practise of FGC in this area.
A symbolic prick or scratch
A ‘symbolic form’ of female genital cutting, a pricking or scratching of the clitoral hood is reported to be practised in southern Thailand. Amongst the Thai- and Malay-speaking Muslims living in the Satun province bordering Malaysia, a traditional midwife performs this form of FGC, locally termed sunat or just glossed as ‘to be cut’/’cutting’ (‘dtat’ in Thai or ‘potong’ in Malay) (Merli, 2008). The prick or scratch is performed on girls at a young age, anywhere between a few months to eleven years old.
Our source notes that, where she lives in Thailand, FGC is often ceremonial within the community and the occasion is marked by a shared dinner. However, from Claudia Merli’s experience in Satun province, the female sunat is a very private matter between the girl’s mother, the traditional midwife and some female relatives. During her time in the area, Merli only once witnessed the family holding a minor celebration and blessing after a girl’s sunat.
FGC linked with religious traditions
As Orchid has found time and time again, the continuation of FGC is often closely linked with religious traditions. Although many Islamic scholars worldwide do not consider FGC obligatory, and the practice is not mentioned in the Quran, Merli notes that it is considered to mark the entrance of the girl into the local community, representing the formal acceptance into the Islamic community (Merli, 2008). As in many other countries and communities, defenders and opponents of FGC co-exist within Satun province. Certain religious groups support the continuation of what they regard as a traditional Islamic practice, whereas others who are more exposed to ideas on rights take an oppositional stance. What’s more, Merli found that in Satun the practice was clearly upheld by women, yet usually opposed by men – which is also the case in many other practising communities. She suggests this distinction in viewpoints can be attributed to men’s deeper knowledge of the scriptures of the Quran, whereas women from such groups may have lower literacy levels.
Understanding of cultural contexts
As Orchid Project continues to gain knowledge about and document parts of the world where female genital cutting is practised, it is important to learn as much as we can about the cultural contexts in which this practice is perpetuated. This will enable us to work with local communities and take steps towards identifying partners with whom we can work towards a global end to FGC. If you have any accounts or comments on FGC being practised in southern Thailand, please do get in touch. We will treat your comments anonymously.
Merli, Claudia. 2008. Sunat for girls in southern Thailand: Its relation to traditional midwifery, male circumcision and other obstetrical practices. Finnish Journal of Ethnicity and Migration 3(2): 32-41. http://dro.dur.ac.uk/5302/
Merli, Claudia. 2010. Male and female genital cutting among Southern Thailand’s Muslims: rituals, biomedical practices, and local discourses. Culture, Health and Sexuality 12(7): 725-738. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13691051003683109