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Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C)

Egypt's FGM/C debate from 2011 until now

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This is a continuation of a previous essay.

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2011-FEB-25: Hank Pellissier of Ethical Technology writing at the time of the Egyptian uprising against the Mubarak dictatorship, compared male circumcision with FGM/C, and gave an assessment of the status of women in Egypt. He wrote:

"... female genital mutilation is not circumcision — it’s a far more dangerous and debilitating attack on the flesh. Abolishing FGM/C unfortunately was not an agenda item that any Egyptian revolutionary spokesperson mentioned, and it was generally ignored as a subject of discussion by international media until CBS reporter Lara Logan was assaulted in Tahrir Square on February 11 by a mob of up to 200 men.

The Sunday Times reported that 'sensitive parts of her body were covered with red marks… from aggressive pinching.' She was also 'stripped, punched and slapped.' Suddenly, misogynist horror in the land of the Pharaohs was in the spotlight, and why not? The attack on Logan, who was rescued by Egyptian women and policemen after 20 to 30 minutes of abuse, serves as a potent reminder that even with Mubarak gone, it’s often a nasty men’s world in the Nile nation.

'Rampant sexual harassment, public fondling and groping of women… is used as a way to keep women indoors,' writes Asra Nomani in the Huffington Post. A 2008 survey by the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights says 83% of Egyptian women and 98% of foreign visiting females experience sexual harassment, and the Arab Human Development Report (2009) claims 35% of all Egyptian women have been physically attacked, a figure they suggest is grossly under-reported. The 2010 Global Gender Gap Index, a Swiss study that rates progress towards women’s equality, places Egypt in the international cellar: #125 out of 134 nations surveyed. Egypt’s rank is abysmal because it excludes women from good jobs, especially managerial positions, and only 2% of parliament is female.

Abuse of Egyptian females often occurs early in life, with female genital mutilation. Although it was banned in 2007 by the Ministry of Health following the death of 12-year-old Badour Shaker—who overdosed on anesthesia in an illegal clinic—its prevalence has only dropped from 97% to 91% in recent years, according to Nfissatou Diop, program coordinator of a joint project by UNICEF (United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund) and UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund).

The Grand Mufti of Egypt has said FGM/C is 'prohibited,' the Al-Aabar Supreme Council of Islamic Research says it shouldn’t be practiced because it has no basis in Islamic law, and even the former first lady—Suzanne Mubarak—denounced it as 'a flagrant example of continued physical and psychological violence.'

So…why does this barbarity persist?" 1

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2013-JUN: A 13-year-old girl, Sohair al-Bata'a, in Egypt died after being subjected to female genital mutilation/cutting. Dr Raslan Fadl who performed the surgery has claimed that she did not die as a result of the operation, but rather from an allergic reaction to penicillin that was used as an antibiotic. In an apparent cover-up, a government investigation concluded that the direct cause of her death was an allergic reaction, but that she had been operated on to remove genital warts.

According to an article in The Daily Beast:

"The precise origins of the ritual are ancient and disputed. One of the strongest theories suggests it may have emerged in Ethiopia during the time of the pharaohs. It is believed the practice may have become bound up with notions of Hapi, the Nile god, an androgynous being with the appearance of a man and prominent, female-like breasts. Believing that, like Hapi, their girls might eventually develop masculine features, people practiced FGM to prevent the clitoris from turning into a penis, it is argued.

Eventually the tradition was brought into the cultures, beliefs, and religions of the Nile Valley. According to the most recent authoritative survey, more than 90 percent of women aged 15-49 in Egypt have undergone FGM, while Egypt itself accounts for more than a quarter of the 91 million women in Africa who have had their clitoris removed.

Nadra Zaki, a Cairo-based child protection specialist for UNICEF who has campaigned for an end to FGM, said it is a tradition which now serves largely to perpetuate the repression of women.“It’s a way of decreasing the power of girls and women,” she said. “This is what FGM is about.” Along with dozens of other NGOs, UNICEF has for the past decade been campaigning to raise awareness about the misery which befalls women who are subjected to genital mutilation. ..."

"... some [anti-FGM/C] campaigners believe that the strides made by political Islam since the 2011 Egyptian revolt may undo much of their hard work. According to Dr. Mohamed Magdy, a leading figure within an organizational called NGOs Coalition Against FGM, the rise of Egypt’s Islamists “might put a lot of obstacles” in their way.

“The conservative trend is pro-FGM,” he said. “Before when we were working, we were fighting against traditional views in the communities. Now we’re fighting the political parties too.”

He claimed that following the revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood—whose long-time member, Mohamed Morsi, is now the Egyptian president—dispatched mobile clinics promoting FGM to Minya, a city which lies about 245 kilometers south of Cairo. 2

Local human rights groups, the international group Equality Now, and the National Population Council (NPC) in Egypt -- a state agency -- actively campaigned to have the government reopen the case. As a result, Egypt's chief prosecutor has charged both Doctor Fadl and the victim's father.

Hala Youssef, who heads the NPC, said:

"It is a very important case. It's the first time that somebody in Egypt will be prosecuted for this crime, and it should be a lesson for every clinician. The law is there, and it will be implemented." 3

Vivian Foad led the NPC's investigation. She said:

"It's a cultural problem, not religious. Both Muslims and Christians do it. They believe it protects a woman's chastity."

Suad Abu-Dayyeh is the regional representative of Equality Now. He said:

"It's very much rooted in Egypt, but in other Arab countries -– in Jordan, in Palestine, in Syria -– we don't have it. ... It's a very painful procedure and I don't know why they do it. It's the worst one. Women will really not feel any pleasure when having sex with their husband. It's criminal. ... Now you need much more work. And it has to be done far away from Cairo – in the [rural areas] where the practice is very widespread." 3

UNICEF reports that support for FGM/C in Egypt is in decline. 4 Surveys show that:

  • In 2005, 41% of mothers wanted their daughters to undergo FGM/C. This declined to 33% in 2008.

  • 72% of women with no education wanted FGM/C to continue; 44% of women with secondary education or higher agreed.

  • Recently, 72% of FGM/C procedures were performed by doctors.

The UNICEF report comments:

"Though progress has been slow, it is encouraging that the journey towards an Egyptian society free of FGM/C is on the right path. The first steps have been taken to urge society to abandon FGM/C. However, the road will be long as the practice has been a tradition in Egypt for centuries and is deeply entrenched social convention. Estimates for the median age that girls undergo FGM/C in Egypt is 10 years, with more than half of all girls falling victim to FGM/C practice between the ages of 7 and 10. Virtually all girls who experience FGM are cut before the age of 13. 4

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More news on this topic is inevitable.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Hank Pellissler, "Liberating Egypt from Female Genital Mutilation," Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies (IEET), 2011-FEB-25, at: http://ieet.org/index.php/
  2. Alistair Beach, "Egypt's terrible FGM death," The Daily Beast, 2013-JUN-13, at: http://www.thedailybeast.com/
  3. Patrick Kingsley, "Egypt launches first prosecution for female genital mutilation after girl dies," The Guardian, 2013-MAR-14, at: http://www.theguardian.com/
  4. "Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting," UNICEF, at: http://www.unicef.org/

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Home page > "Hot" religious topics > FGM > here

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Copyright 2011 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2014-APR
Last update: 2014-APR-22

Author: B.A. Robinson
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