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Seminar | Female genital mutilation and the effort to reclaim women’s Islamic authority | Lies Marcoes

22/03/2023 @ 16:00 - 17:30

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) was a key issue on the agenda of the second Indonesian Congress of Women Islamic Scholars (Kongres Ulama Perempuan Indonesia, KUPI), held in Jepara, Indonesia, in November 2022. The Congress resulted in several fatwas (authoritative Islamic leave opinions), including one that stated that FGM should be considered haram, or forbidden.

The practice of female circumcision is widespread in Indonesia. A recent health survey (Riskesdas, 2013) found that 51.2%, or one out of two females in Indonesia aged zero to 11 years, had undergone some kind of intervention. Although the survey did not mention what type of circumcision was performed (anything from infibulation to symbolic), the practice is widely prevalent in nearly all parts of the country, from Aceh to West Papua. 

The Indonesian government recently announced a decade of efforts to prevent the practice. However, the government has had difficulties in advocating for eradication of female circumcision, partly because many Indonesian Muslims consider the practice to be within the domain of religious authority, not health. In this regard, KUPI might be able to play an important role. As Nor Ismah has explained in dissertation, recently defended at Leiden University, the Congress contributes to women ulama claiming authority in everyday life.

In this seminar, Lies Marcoes will contribute to this discussion by arguing why and how interventions like the fatwa mentioned above must deal not only with the world of religious scholars, but also with other actors who are currently struggling to maintain their authority in Indonesian society. These include traditional healers (dukun/paraji) and other ritual experts engaged with matters pertaining women’s bodies, sex, and sexuality, such as female circumcision. As guardians of ‘local culture’, these figures are faced not only with the KUPI fatwa, which considers what they do to be haram, but also with a regime of medicalization that robs them of their traditional roles, as well as attacks from Wahabi/Salafi groups.

In such disputes over authority, how can Muslim feminists, including those at KUPI, offer a way out?


Lies Marcoes is a prominent Indonesian researcher and women’s rights activist. She has written several books and many more op-eds on gender-related issues. Publications include Where Were the Women? Women in Inter-Faith Dialog in Indonesia (RIMA-World Bank Singapore, 2015), on women’s perspectives on peace building; Training on BOS and the School System in Indonesia: Images of Hope (AUSAID and the Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture, 2014); Menolak Tumbang: Gender Kemiskinan dan Keadilan (translated into English, by Anne Lockley, as A Jourey Against Defeat, 2015) on gender poverty and justice. Her most recent article, ‘Religious discipline in pre-school education in Indonesia’, appeared in Islam, Education and Radicalism in Indonesia: Instructing Piety (ed. Tim Lindsay and Helen Pausacker; Routledge, 2023). Lies is currently conducting research at KITLV on the issue of radicalism and women. She is also writing a photo essay book about “One decade of Indonesia’s efforts to eliminate female circumcision” (UNFPA, Maret 2023).


Angelica Wahono is an Indonesian researcher who wrote a thesis about FGM in Indonesia for the Master Programme European and International Human Rights Law.


Adriaan Bedner is KITLV professor (by special appointment) of Law and Society in Indonesia and head of department of the Van Vollenhoven Institute for Law, Governance and Society (VVI).

David Kloos is a senior researcher at KITLV. He is interested in religion, gender, violence, colonialism, knowledge formation, visual methods, and the social and political aspects of climate change. 

Format, date, time & venue

This seminar is a hybrid event and will take place on Wednesday 22 March from 16.00-17.30 PM (CET).
The seminar will be held in Room B 0.30 in the Kamerling Onnes Building, Leiden University.
It is also possible to join the seminar online (see below). 


No registration is needed if you want to join this seminar on location.
If you want to join this seminar online, please register via: [email protected]


Above: A female traditional healer (paraji) prepares a female genital cutting ritual in Bogor, Indonesia: Offerings, incense and surgical scissors.
Below: A female genital cutting ritual led by women traditional helers in Bogor. All women seem happy except for the baby girl.
Photographer: Denis, 3 December 2022.


KITLV & Van Vollenhoven Institute (VVI).


16:00 - 17:30
Event Category:




Room B 0.30 in the Kamerling Onnes Building, Leiden University