Lead Author: LIMPAO Aminoding
Published by: Pag-Islam
Year published: 2021

Executive Summary

This study is an exploratory action research on the controversial practice of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in the Philippines in the predominantly Muslim, Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Mindanao. Despite limited research on the practice and a lack of awareness among international and national stakeholders on the occurence of FGM in the Philippines, the study confirmed that the practice is still widespread in Bangsamoro. Alternative, non-harmful practices are gradually replacing FGM in a few areas, as driven by local leadership.

Exploratory action research is a participatory form of qualitative research that engages communities to devise solutions to challenges they identify. The study used focus group discussions (FGDs) and key informant interview (KIIs) to surface the perspectives and experiences of girls, traditional birth attendants (TBAs), Moro Muslim religious leaders (MRLs), traditional and local leaders, health workers, and social workers. A total of 458 individuals (413 females and 45 males) from three municipalities of five Bangsamoro provinces participated in the study. These provinces were: Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi; with a municipality in the province of Sarangani as pilot study. The study was conducted from March to November 2020. The Research Team applied thematic and content analyses on the participants’ responses.

Girls and women reported being subjected to Type IV FGM. Even girls in their infancy were submitted to the procedure. FGM/C is linked to other issues affecting girls in Bangsamoro such as child, early and forced marriage (CEFM), as it is culturally assumed that girls are ready for marriage after undergoing FGM/C. CEFM in turn leads to disruption and eventual deprivation of access to education as girls are constrained to perform reproductive roles3 expected of married women. Although Although it is not prescribed in the Qur’an, communities widely believe that FGM is an Islamic practice. Pandays, or TBAs, are the main performers of the practice, and mothers are the usual decision-makers about subjecting their female infants to FGM/C. The TBAs tools typically include a thin bamboo strip, a nail-cutting knife (or any other small knife), or a needle. These implements are used to scrape or prick the clitoris or the labia; or to extract “whitish substance” in the area of the clitoris. Participants described how FGM/C is typically carried out alongside other gendered cultural practices such as ear piercing. Girls and women recounted their experiences of fear, pain, irritation, a burning sensation, and bleeding, as a result of FGM/C. It was a traumatic experience for several participants, who reported crying, being physically restrained, or trying to run away when they were subjected to FGM. No infections were reported. However, further complaints of discomfort in the vaginal area were dismissed by the TBAs and parents, claiming that these discomforts are a normal part of FGM and would soon go away. FGM was conducted without sanitary or hygenic precautions beyond wiping the genitals with an alcohol swab after pricking, scraping, or cutting. Participants reported that FGM/C is widely acceptable, commonly practiced, and highly likely to continue in the Bangsamoro region. Participants recommended rooting action to counter the practice in the principles of the Islamic faith, and pointed to the example of Datu Saudi Ampatuan, a municipality in Maguindanao that rejects FGM and is working as a community to eradicate the practice.