Drop the knife: Stop FGM
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) usually involves the removal of the clitoris and other parts of female genitalia. It is considered by many people in Egypt as a necessary practice that tames a girl’s sexual desires and maintains her honor. Reportedly, 80 percent of the poor and 30 percent of wealthy Egyptian families subject their girls to FGM. FGM is most commonly performed in Egypt between the ages of four and ten. Some 70 percent of female infertility rates in Egypt are due to FGM. The technical medical operation FGM was never and is not taught at any of Egypt’s medical faculties, contrary to male circumcision.
FGM was being combated as early as 1904, secretly, by Sheikh Mohamed Rashid Reda. In 1954 and 1996, the practice was banned except when medical intervention was deemed necessary, and a state-run campaign to eradicate the practice was launched in 2003. In late 2006, Egypt’s national campaign against FGM was launched following a request by Suzanne Mubarak, wife of current President Hosni Mubarak and head of the technical consultative committee of the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood.
On the religious level, the Islamic Mufti of Egypt announced in July 2007 that FGM is not Islamic and issued a fatwa prohibiting the practice of FGM at large. On the legal level, violators are subject to ministerial decree No. 271 for the year 2007, which entails shutting down private clinics and the possibility of undergoing a professional investigation at the Egyptian Physicians’ Syndicate, which could result in a ban on practicing medicine for up to five years.
Despite all these efforts and courageous initiatives, FGM is still practiced among grassroots citizens in urban and rural areas inside and outside Cairo. Most Egyptian girls still undergo the painful practice. Karima, a 13-year-old Gharbiya governorate and Bedoor, an 8-year-old from Minya governorate died in mid-2007 from female genital mutilation (FGM). Prohibition has led to FGM going underground, at times with people who have had no medical training performing the cutting without anesthetic, sterilization, or the use of proper medical instruments. The procedure, when performed without any anesthetics, can lead to death through the shock of immense pain or excessive bleeding. Failure to use sterile medical instruments may lead to infections. Hepatitis C is among the fatal viruses that can be transmitted to girls during this practice. Other serious long-term health effects are also common, including urinary and reproductive infections caused by obstructed flow of urine and menstrual blood, various forms of scarring and infertility. No need to mention the endless psychological pains that continue with the girl till the end of her life.
Hence, the problem is not with changing laws or criminalizing the practice of FGM on religious or legal grounds. The real challenge is with changing the mentalities of parents who insist on practicing this crime despite it being criminalized, legally and religiously. It is not as difficult a task as it might seem. It only requires changing the state of focus from looking into laws and amending regulations to addressing grassroots citizens directly with their own language. I have done this myself.
At the age of 17, after joining university, a group of four students and I launched a campaign called “Female Students against FGM.” Our campaign was as simple as going to shopping areas, vegetable markets, and other areas where women usually visit and talk to them about FGM and its dire consequences on their children physical and psychological health. At that time, speaking about FGM was a taboo. I think it is still a taboo for some people! The main goal of the campaign was to stop those mothers from taking their daughters for FGM with the claim that this will protect their honor.
At the beginning, people rejected listening to us and considered this a very shameful thing to do and that they could not speak about it. The campaign continued for one school year and was able to rescue some few girls from going through this horrible experience.
I always ask myself, what if the state adopted a campaign like ours? In other words, what if the state hired specialized psychiatrists and doctors to knock the doors of women and speak directly with them (one-on-one) about the elimination of this useless and harmful habit. I think this can do miracles!