Doctor’s arrest brings attention to US female circumcisions

In this December 2015 photo provided by her, Zehra Patwa poses for a picture at her home in New Haven, Conn. (AP)
Updated 24 April 2017

Doctor’s arrest brings attention to US female circumcisions

DETROIT: Zehra Patwa learned only a few years ago that during a family trip to India at age 7, she was circumcized, which is common for girls in parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Patwa, 46, doesn’t remember undergoing the procedure, which is also called female genital mutilation or cutting and which has been condemned by the United Nations and outlawed in the US But she doesn’t want to.
“I have no desire to get that memory back. ... Psychologically, it feels like a violation, even though I don’t remember it,” said Patwa, a technology project manager from New Haven, Connecticut, who now campaigns against the centuries-old practice.
The recent arrest of a Michigan doctor accused of performing the procedure on two 7-year-old girls from Patwa’s own Shiite Muslim sect, the Dawoodi Bohra, highlights how female genital mutilation is alive and well in parts of the Western world where its adherents have migrated and formed communities.
Depending on the culture, female circumcisions are performed on girls of various ages and by various methods, and they are seen as a way of controlling a girl’s sexuality, maintaining her purity or even making her more fertile as she grows into adulthood. Critics, though, say it can cause complications during childbirth, make intercourse painful and eliminate any pleasure a woman can derive from sex.
Dr. Jumana Nagarwala is accused of performing the procedure on two Minnesota girls that left them with scars and lacerations. Her attorney, Shannon Smith, insists that Nagarwala conducted a benign religious ritual that involved no mutilation.
Prosecutors on Friday charged two other Bohras, Dr. Fakhruddin Attar and his wife, Farida Attar, with conspiracy. Fakhruddin Attar owns the Detroit-area clinic where the alleged procedures were performed in February, and investigators say the couple knew Nagarwala was doing the procedures after business hours.
There are more than a million Bohras in the world, most of whom live in India. No one knows how many there are in the US, but it’s estimated there are about 25,000 and that they have about 20 mosques and gathering places.
Patwa, who is part of the activist group Speak Out on FGM, said that given its clandestine nature, it’s hard to estimate how many people perform female circumcisions in the US But there are a small number in the Bohra community who are known by elders and tend to be clustered around large cities with Bohra mosques, she said.
When many Bohra girls are age 6 to 8, their parents approach — or are approached by — a “secret network” of female elders about getting the girls cut. There is then an informal vetting process to make sure a request is legitimate and not an attempt to expose any activities, Patwa said.
“Everybody knows somebody who has gotten their daughter cut ... but nobody wants to rat out their family members or friends,” she said.
A spokesman for the Syedna, the Bohras’ religious head in Mumbai, India, could not be reached for comment. The two men vying to succeed the Syedna, his half brother and the son of a former Syedna, have different views on female circumcision. The half brother says it is time to end the practice of female circumcision. The former Syedna’s son, whom most Bohras accept as their new leader, says the tradition must continue and notes that Bohra men are also circumcized.
“Men have to do it, and even women have to do it,” Syedna Muffadal Saifuddin said in a speech last year.
The World Health Organization said the practice of removing or injuring female genital organs has no known health benefits but has been performed on roughly 200 million women and girls in 30 countries.
Multiple Islamic scholars and experts say the practice is cultural, not based in religious principles. Those who don’t have their daughters circumcized are subjected to pressure, and those who do believe they are protecting the girls.
Although Patwa and others describe it as a widespread practice, it’s not universally performed among the Bohra. Sahiyo, a Mumbai-based organization that campaigns against the procedure, estimates that about 80 percent of girls within the community have had it done.
She said she attends a Bohra mosque near Boston, which she describes as a welcoming and largely educated and tolerant congregation, but not one in which the procedure they call “khatna” is openly discussed.
“Part of my campaigning is always, ‘We have a problem within our community. We can only deal with it as a community,” she said. “We can expose it, but other people aren’t going to swoop in and help us.’“
Patwa said many Bohra mosques, including hers, have sent letters to members encouraging them not to engage in khatna because it could be considered illegal. But she said some critics don’t see this as a serious attempt by mosques to end the practice, but rather as legal cover.
Dr. Mohammed Arsiwala, president and CEO of Michigan Urgent Care and a board member of the Michigan State Medical Society, said he was a Bohra until about five years ago. He has shared his concerns about the procedure through a resolution presented to the state medical group, which adopted a policy several years ago labeling it unethical for doctors to perform.
Jiwajee Bhai Bootwala belongs to the Minneapolis-area Bohra community, which he said consists of about 25 to 30 families. He said he doesn’t know of anyone involved in the practice and didn’t know about the families who went to Michigan, or if they even belong to his group. Still, he said, the news will spoil his community’s image.
“The law for the country is part of your faith,” he said. “So we would never do something against the laws of the country.”


Internally displaced Afghans look to foreign donors for help

Updated 25 November 2020

Internally displaced Afghans look to foreign donors for help

  • UN warns of ‘grave consequences’ for Kabul if officials at global conference cut aid

KABUL: As they huddle around a makeshift fire a few meters away from their tents, a group of men, displaced by decades of war in Afghanistan, recall the number of times former and current government officials pledged to provide basic amenities to millions of refugees during routine visits to their camp.

One man in the group, 42-year-old Shah Tawoos, points at a dirty stream of water which is making its way beneath the rotten tent – his “home” for more than a decade.

“Look at the humidity inside and the mud outside the tent, even dogs can’t and won’t bear this, but we have nowhere to go,” Tawoos told Arab News.

The tent is one of many located in the Charahi Qambar (CQ) camp, on the western fringes of Kabul, where thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) like Tawoos are denied their rights and are continuously threatened with deportation.

“Ministers and other authorities came and went, pledging to help us with houses, but nothing has happened. We do not know where the government spends the national budget and foreign aid,” he said.

According to the Internal Monitoring Displacement Centre (IMDC), the CQ is one of 47 camps that house nearly 3 million IDPs, who had their lives upended either by natural disasters or a fresh bout of violence since the Taliban’s ouster in the US-led invasion in 2001.

The displacements were triggered by fighting and attacks involving the Taliban, government and US-led forces, Daesh and other nonstate armed groups.

“In the first half of 2020, there were 117,000 new displacements associated with conflict and violence and 30,000 as a result of disasters,” according to the IMDC.

The CQ camp is filled with refugees from Afghanistan’s south where, according to the United Nations, more than 5,000 families have fled the fighting between the Taliban insurgents and Afghan government forces, specifically in the Helmand province.

The conditions at these camps are deplorable, with IDPs residing in tents either donated by local or foreign relief agencies or in small mud houses built using their resources.

The tents are rotting. Their condition, residents say, gets worse in summer when heavy rain and snow weakens the fabric, resulting in gaping holes.

“Our tents become infested with mosquitoes in the summer heat and unbearably cold in winter times,” Rahmat Gul, another resident of the camp, said.

He laments about the lack of electricity and water supply and highlights the plight of thousands of children who have no access to education or, often, food.

There are other issues as well, Gul says, such as unemployment and poverty, forcing some men and women to beg to make ends meet.

The camp first attracted attention in 2012 after at least 15 IDP children froze to death due to the harsh winter conditions.

The displacements were the topic of discussion once again during a virtual donor conference in Geneva on Monday and Tuesday where ministers from nearly 70 countries and officials of humanitarian organisations spoke about funding cuts and tighter restrictions on vital aid for Afghanistan, marking further challenges for a nation that is preparing for an early withdrawal of US-led foreign troops and grappling with the COVID-19 crisis.

“We want the participants (in Geneva) to act with caution, take firm measures for accountability and transparency from our government. Otherwise we fear that just like in the past, much of the aid will be squandered either by foreign contractors or officials in our government,” Gul said.

Ahead of the conference which began on Monday, President Ashraf Ghani said he hoped for it to generate billions of dollars of aid.

“The outcome of this pledging conference will heavily influence the country’s future development and our path towards self-reliance and peace,” Ghani said during the weekend in Kabul.

It follows a similar event in Belgium in 2016 where donors pledged to extend $15 billion in aid to Afghanistan for the next five years.

However, finance ministry spokesman Shamrooz Khan Masjidi was unable to comment on how much of the pledged aid had been disbursed.

“We would like a major part of the aid to be channeled through government budgets,” he said.

He added that the focus of all future aid would be on building infrastructure, repatriation of refugees and aiding the war displaced.

“Kabul had fulfilled the benchmarks set by donors for the last conference with regards to combating corruption and was open for accountability for the cash it has spent,” he said.

The Geneva meeting comes amid a deadlock in the talks between the Afghan government and Taliban negotiators in Doha, Qatar, that have been going on since Sept. 12, as well as rising discontent with Ghani’s government at home and abroad due to soaring corruption, weak governance and the alleged squandering of state resources.

A recent report released by US watchdog SIGAR said: “The Afghan government makes paper reforms, such as drafting regulations or holding meetings, rather than concrete actions that would reduce corruption, such as arresting powerful actors.”

Following the SIGAR report and ahead of the Geneva conference, Ghani’s government ordered the formation of another commission to fight graft.

However, Sayed Ikram Afzali, executive director of Integrity Watch, said that the government had “no will for fighting corruption and resorts to symbolic works for drawing the attention at international conferences.”

A survey conducted by the Afghan Civil Society Forum on Sunday said that 90 percent of participants believed that “the government is corrupt.”

Afghanistan’s last permanent ambassador to the United Nations, Mahmoud Saikal, said on Monday: “In this time of high corruption, it is extremely important donors demand strong accountability from those who claim to represent our people.”

It’s a thought echoed by UN Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi. He also warned of “grave consequences” if the world turned away from Afghanistan.

“Failure on either account would see Afghanistan slide backwards with disastrous consequences, including further displacement, possibly on a larger scale…” he said in a statement on Sunday.