This article first appeared on Good Vibrations Magazine.
You know you are a sexologist when a little advertisement tucked away in the sports section of a commuter newspaper in Singapore catches your eye.
It reads Laser Circumcision for Male Adults and Children and what is even more interesting is that one can use Medisave for it. Medisave Scheme is a national healthcare savings scheme designed to help members pay hospitalisation expenses incurred in Class B2/C wards in restructured hospitals in Singapore. Medisave savings can also be used to pay for certain outpatient treatments like chemotherapy, radiotherapy and dialysis.
In short, circumcision is a minor surgery which is actually approved by the local government! One could argue that since circumcision is not an actual medical need, the use of Medisave funds should not be allowed.
Google male circumcision singapore and you are in for more surprises! Apparently Singapore is known as a “location of circumcision clamp design and manufacture”. Two circumcision clamp designs that operate on the “Clip-&-Wear” (ischemic necrosis) principle are associated with Singapore. The original version of the SmartKlamp was produced here, at the time when the development was being conducted by the Dutch company Circumvent BV. Entirely separately, the Pro Ring was designed in Singapore, but it appears never to have gone into commercial production. A very similar design, the Ismail Klamp subsequently emerged in the Malaysian town of Johor Baharu, just across the causeway from Singapore. Fascinating stuff!
How about some actual statistics? According to this article Global circumcision rates by Jake H Waskett published on CIRCUS.org or Circumcision Independent Reference and Commentary Service, 15 percent of the men in Singapore (14.9% are Muslims, and 0.1% are Jewish) are circumcised. That is 345,284 out of 2,309,590. That is a lot less than the 79 percent circumcised men in the United States, but an interesting fact to me nevertheless. Since this article was last updated July 14, 2011, it is probably the closest I can ever get to learning about circumcision rates in Singapore.
Most people only think of male circumcision when they hear of the word circumcision. Many are not aware that female circumcision exists. You can get a good picture of the state of female circumcision from this page hosted on the website of Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) in Singapore – the only gender equality advocacy non-profit in Singapore.
In case you do not know, a more acceptable term for female circumcision should be female genital mutilation (FGM). According to World Health Organisation (WHO), female genital mutilation is the designated term for any procedures under which female genitalia are wholly or partly removed or damaged, whether for cultural reasons, or for any reasons other then medical. FGM was introduced because female circumcision was considered by many victims to trivialize the issue. (Diries, 2005: 212) Female genital cutting, female sexual mutilation and ritual genital surgery are other words used to describe the same procedure or group or procedures.
“The term FGM provides an emotional force behind a policy of zero tolerance towards any cutting that may occur in the female genital area… The label also carries the assumptions that all female circumcision practices intentionally limit female sexual pleasure in order to control women, have a detrimental effect on women’s health, and because they harm women and girls, must be eradicated regardless of the extend of the procedure or the context in which they occur. Moreover, the policy of zero tolerance framed by the UN and advocated for adoption by member states suggests that the educated first world (from which this term emerged) has the responsibility to ‘save’ third world women – without recourse to their very different histories and ‘manifestations of differently structured desires’.” (Aby Lughod, 2002: 783; Walley, 1997; Wood, 2001 in Newland, 2006: 119)
WHO estimates that the global impact of these practices constitute a serious public health crisis. As many as 2 million girls a year are subjected to some form of cutting, adding to a cumulative worldwide count of 130 million women and girls. Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia, and Sudan account for about three quarters of all cases. In some of these countries, more than 90 percent of the female population has been cut. (Gollaher, 2000: 189)
Outside Africa, FGM is practiced in Oman, both North and South Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, and some areas of Saudi Arabia. Some indigenous people in Peru, Colombia, Mexico and Brazil are reported to practice clitoridectomy. Muslim populations in Indonesia and Malaysia and Bohra Muslims in India, Pakistan and East Africa also practice FGM. (Dorkenoo, 1994: 23). Let’s not forget that it exists in Singapore too! In Singapore, the FGM procedure involves using stainless steel scissors to make “a small nick” of a centimetre or so on the skin (or Type I).
At this point, you may be wondering where I am taking this. FGM is strongly linked to virginity, chastity and fidelity, which are often prerequisites for marriage, and usually surrounded by various ceremonial celebrations and coming-of-age rituals. In societies where marriage for a woman is her only means of survival, it would be difficult to persuade her to relinquish the practice for herself or her children. Zero tolerance policies might only lead to FGM being carried out covertly, to perhaps much more detrimental effect to the women involved. Campaigns for its eradication will have to be prosecuted through education and the provision of an alternative focus for celebration in the various communities.
But we are referring to modern day Singapore where it has been argued that there is no religious basis for circumcision, and also no laws regulating the practice in Singapore. Is it really a matter of traditions die hard? If this is a matter of personal choice, it is not quite the same as plastic surgery for beautification, is it? How do we justify the use of Medisave for non-medical use then? Are we not discussing about the need for circumcision as a society because it involves our private parts, and therefore should be kept private? This above advertisement has led me to wonder all this and more.
- Diries, W. (2005) Desert Children, Virago Press, London, UK, pp. 212.
- Dorkenoo, F. (1994) Cutting the Rose: Female Genital Mutilation — The Practice and its Prevention, Minority Rights Publications, London, UK, pp. 13, 23, 24.
- Gollaher, D. L. (2000) Circumcision: A history of the world’s most controversial surgery, Basic Books, New York, USA, pp. 189.
- Newland, L. (2006) Female Circumcision: Muslim Identities and Zero Tolerance Policies in Rural West Java in Spade, J. L. & Valentine, C. G. (2008) The Kaleidoscope of Gender: Prisms, Patterns and Possibilities, 2nd edition, Sage Publications, California, USA, pp. 119.