Egyptian girls continue to suffer FGM

Friday 19/02/2016
A file picture shows an Egyptian woman, in Minya, holding a brochure about the risks involved in female genital mutilation.

Cairo - Safe Mahmoud accompa­nied her five daughters, one by one, to be “cut”, the last having gone under­gone female genital muti­lation (FGM) less than a year ago. Mahmoud, 45, from the southern province of Asyut, believes that cut­ting the genitals of her daughters will make them chaste.

“This is how most people here think at least,” she said. “Every fe­male in the family has to undergo the operation.”

A local circumciser carried out the operation with a blade and without anaesthesia, leaving the girls with scars that could remain with them throughout their lives.

Female genital mutilation is a widespread practice throughout Egypt, despite repeated warnings by health specialists about adverse health effects and advice against the procedure by men of religion.

Rampant female genital mutila­tion is driven by tradition and ig­norance, activists who campaign against the practice say.

“Parents just think that their daughters would be more virtuous if they are circumcised,” said Ahlam Helmi, an advocate of women’s and children’s rights. “Sorry to say, cir­cumcision has nothing to do with virtue.”

Newspapers throughout Egypt are replete with articles about girls deeply harmed as a result of circum­cision. A few weeks ago, the story made the news of a girl tied to a door in her home by her parents who were afraid she would run away due to the pain after being cut.

Egypt had its most shocking cir­cumcision-induced fatality in 2013 when a 12-year-old girl died. The date of the girl’s death — June 14th — has been marked as a national anti-female genital mutilation com­memoration.

A law against female circumcision was passed in 2008, stipulating im­prisonment of up to three years and fines up to 5,000 Egyptian pounds (about $625) for people involved in the practice. However, the law was only enforced in 2015 when two courts sentenced people involved in two cases of female genital cutting to prison.

Even so, the circumcision drive is uneasy to quell. Apart from the de­sire to control women’s sexuality, a large number of Egyptians believe that circumcision is strongly linked with religion.

The religious establishment has ferociously opposed that line of thought. Egypt’s former mufti said parents who force their daughters to be cut are “sinners”.

The Health Ministry said it planned a new initiative as part of its battle against female genital cut­ting. It will encourage doctors to stop performing the procedures.

Egyptians will still find ways to cut the genitals of their daughters — even without doctors — because an uncircumcised woman, Mahmoud claims, may have less chance of get­ting married.

“We have more than one case of women who were divorced on the wedding day just because their hus­bands discovered that they were not circumcised before marriage,” Mahmoud said. “Some other wom­en were forced to have their genitals cut by none other than their hus­bands.”

Egypt is making progress against the practice, according to the Health Ministry. In 2008, 73% of all girls at the age of 17 underwent genital mutilation, the ministry said. Eight years earlier, 97% of married women included in a World Health Organi­sation survey said they had experi­enced female genital mutilation.

Egypt has a plan to eradicate the practice by 2030. The national strat­egy against the female genital cut­ting includes — apart from law en­forcement and a more active role by the religious establishment — train­ing sessions for doctors to equip them with the necessary arguments to reason parents out of their desire to have their daughters circumcised.

But Sahar Abdel Gayed, an adviser to the governor of Asyut, said real change will happen only when cul­ture is changed.

“This is a practice that is strongly linked with people’s religious and social beliefs,” Abdel Gayed said. “This means that it will not stop be­fore these beliefs are changed and this is a process that takes time.”