Pag-Islam: An Exploratory Action Research on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting Practices in the Bangsamoro Region, Philippines
In the Bangsamoro region of the Philippines, FGM/C is commonly called ‘pag sunnat’ (‘sunnat’ refers to the traditions and practices of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, that constitute a model for Muslims to follow) or ‘pag Islam,’ connoting that the practice is deeply connected to the Islamic faith. In Moro (Muslim) communities in the region, the procedure is typically performed on females between 3-4 years old or before their first menstruation (menarche).
It is usually initiated by an elderly, female TBA or ‘panday’. In other areas, she may be a ‘pakil’, a respected woman who cleanses Muslim women’s bodies before the final burial takes place and recites Qur’anic verses during the rituals.
The World Health Organization estimates that worldwide, 200 million women and girls have been subjected to FGM/C, and each year, an additional 3 million girls are at risk.4 FGM/C has no health benefits, and may even result in serious immediate and long term harm. Adverse effects on women and girls’ health include, but are not limited to: pain, hemorrhage, infection (including HIV spread through using the same instruments in multiple FGM/C operations), sepsis, shock, urinary and menstrual problems, sexual dysfunction, psychological trauma and even death. Reproductive health complications include a heightened risk of obstructed labour causing obstetric fistula or postpartum hemorrhage, both of which are major contributors to maternal mortality.
There are four types of FGM/C:
- Removal of the prepuce/clitoral hood, and/or removal of the clitoris
- Removal of the clitoris, labia minora and/or labia major
- Removal and appositioning of the labia (e.g. suturing shut leaving only a small opening for menstrual blood, urine and sexual intercourse), with or without the removal of the clitoris
- All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes; for example, pricking, pulling, piercing, scraping, incising, and cauterizing.
The most common form practiced in Bangsamoro is Type 4.
In general, there is very little research that explores the issue of FGM/Cs and its impacts on the well-being of girls and women in the Philippines. There is a dearth of information, experiential accounts, and ultimately, formal research on FGM/C in this particular geographic area and community. FGM/C is not well known nor widely acknowledged in the Philippines, and learning more about the practice (and its relation to traditional religious beliefs) is critical in understanding the beliefs associated with it. A 2009 study found that women are only considered to be truly “Islamic” or a Muslim when they are ‘circumcised’ or cut. However, research by Islamic scholars elsewhere challenges such connections to Islam and strongly condemns FGM/C in all forms. ch 8 A descriptive study on the Yakan, an ethnolinguistic group settled in the province of Basilan (in Bangsamoro), focused on the procedural aspects of FGM/C.
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 occurrence 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 interviews (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 a pilot study. The study was conducted from March to November 2020. The Research Team applied thematic and content analyses to the participants’ responses.