Days ago, news spread of a 14 years old girl who died due to complications she suffered after a Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) operation in Assuit Governorate.
Nada Hassan Abdel-Maqsoud was taken by her parents, uncle, and aunt to a private clinic in Manfalout, Assiut, for an FGM procedure which resulted in her death.
“The doctor tried to save her, but she passed away,” the public prosecutor’s office said in a statement issued last Thursday. The statement vowed a “firm response” against anyone carrying out the procedure. The girl’s father and doctor have since been detained.
In response, the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM) and the National Council for Women (NCW) urged authorities to prosecute those responsible for the crime.
The girl’s story sheds new light on this phenomenon, which has been around for decades, revealing the disappointing fact that despite the efforts of both international and non-governmental organisations, governments, religious institutions, and civil society groups to end up this crime, it still persists in our society. Despite all the awareness campaigns -both religious and scientific– and increased penalties, FGM is still a topic for controversy.
This fact is very hard to swallow, especially as the National Council of Women (NCW) has been adapting FGM strategies since 2016. This accident proves that the strategy failed to stop this horrid and dangerous phenomenon, however it did succeeded in reducing its rates.
So, because of the continued violence, the question must be raised, why is this practice still a cultural phenomenon, and what is the government doing to stop it? However, before answering these questions, we must first know where Egypt stands when it comes to number of FGM cases, and where the idea of FGM originated. In addition, what is the legal and religious framework in countering such a crime.
FGM is considered one of the most violent practices against women`s rights that deprive them of a healthy physical and psychological wellbeing, and furthermore a social upbringing that expounds the value of freedom, integrity, and protection from all harms and violations. At the same time, this violent practice also violates the rights of men and family to a stable and satisfactory marital life.
From where the idea of FGM originated?
As a society, we have always been asking ourselves where FGM originated from.
Regarding the explanation for the roots of FGM, the most historically accepted assumption is that it is a primary practice that is culturally African, not religious. FGM was introduced to Egypt through commercial and historical relations with other regions practicing it, according to the NCW’s data.
This is evidenced by a map showing the spread of FGM world. This map shows that this practice is still highly prevalent in African countries.
“There are nearly 28 countries, mostly located in the centre of Africa, still practicing FGM today, these countries do not belong to one religion, while some others practice traditional African rituals, which indicates that the origin of such a practice is Africa,” according to the NCW.
FGM also spreads to the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia, as a result of the permanent migration from African and some Arab countries to those countries. Consequently, FGM now spreads among migrants and their families.
Numbers of FGM in Egypt
More than 200 million girls and women have been affected by FGM globally, and with an FGM prevalence of 87.2% in a population of nearly 95m, Egypt has the greatest number of women and girls who have experienced FGM of any country in the world. Since 2008, there has been a significant shift in Egypt away from traditional practitioners and toward health professionals performing FGM, according to the anti-FGM organisation 28 Too Many.
“The overall rate of FGM in Egypt for ever-married women in the reproductive age group (15-49 years) is 92%, while it falls to 61% among young girls in the age group of 15-17 years,” according to the findings of the 2014 Egyptian Demographic and Health Survey (EDHS).
It is noted that more than 75% of FGM is performed on girls aged 9-12 years, 14% on girls younger than 7, and 3% on girls aged 13-20. This suggests that the majority of Egyptian families circumcise their daughters before the age of puberty, meaning the average age of FGM cases is 10-11 years, according to the NCW`s data.
“However, there is a significant increase in the percentage of girls being circumcised by healthcare providers, reaching 65% among girls aged 13-17 years old, compared to 31% among married women between the ages of 15-49 years-old,” according to the National Population Council in its latest report.
Based on the FGM Criminalisation Law, Article 242-bis of the penal code, without prejudice to any greater penalty prescribed by another law, the people involved shall be punished by imprisonment for no less than three months, and not exceeding two years, or a fine of not less than EGP1,000 and not exceeding EGP5,000.
In accordance with Egypt’s commitment towards international conventions on the protection of human rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, (CEDAW), and a convention on the rights of the child, Egypt signed on the UN resolution of intensifying global efforts for the elimination of FGM adopted by the UN general assembly in December 2012. After that, the NCW launched a strategy to confirm the national and international commitment of Egypt to end FGM.
The National strategy mainly aims to reduce the spread of FGM among the future generations through the implementation of laws and ministerial decrees for preventing FGM and punishing practitioners, supporting the government policies aimed at disseminating documented scientific, religious, and legal information, and facts helping to eliminate the violent culture of FGM. The strategy also includes developing a system for monitoring and evaluating FGM’s prevalence rates at the national level, and finally promoting a socio-cultural environment encouraging Egyptian families to denounce FGM.
Religious Framework for FGM
Some think that the reasons of FGM are related to religion. Actually, there is no origin for FGM in the holy books of all the Abrahamic religions (Islam, Christianity, and Judaism).
In November 2006, Islamic scholars from across the Muslim world met at the prominent Islamic Al-Azhar University in Egypt to discuss FGM. They came up with a ban on the practice.
Moreover, the House of Fatwa said on 30 May 2018 FGM was religiously forbidden, adding that banning FGM should be a religious duty due to its harmful effects on the body.
Why people still prefer FGM?
Despite all efforts to end this backlash and all its legal and religious frameworks, people still prefer to circumcise their daughters. Maybe the numbers indicated a slight improvement in the rates of FGM, but a large population of women still must suffer through FGM.
So, Daily News Egypt dug further into the reasons why parents still prefer to conduct FGM.
Nehad Abu Al-Qomsan, head of the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights (ECWR), told Daily News Egypt that there are two main reasons behind practicing FGM in Egypt.
“The first one is the presence of two parallel Islamic thinking or concepts in Egypt; the concept of the state represented in the Ministry of Endowment, Al-Azhar, and the House of Fatwa, while the other one is the concept the Salafists and Islamic groups, who are still seeing FGM as part of religion,” she explained.
In terms of the second reason for still having FGM in Egypt, she said it is the inaction of the law, explaining that many sentences are issued against doctors who practiced such crimes.
“FGM is a tradition, partly entrenched in societal concepts. Parents think that through FGM they are protecting their daughters from misbehaviour,” Director of the Population Council in Egypt Nahla Abdel Tawab, told Daily News Egypt.
She explained that some parents believe that if they do not conduct FGM for their daughter, she will indulge in inappropriate behaviour, which will negatively impact the entire family’s reputation and honour.
Abdel Tawab said that parents who conduct FGM for their daughters always believe that the girl is not enough rational and needs to be protected, so all the reasons mainly due to societal concepts.
Abdel Tawab stated that there is a slight improvement in the numbers of FGM in Egypt but it will take time to see an end to this phenomenon, pointing out that in 2014, all governmental efforts went back to square one as the Muslim Brotherhood promoted FGM.
She explained further that during the era of the Muslim Brotherhood, some voices were promoting FGM, calling for the abolition of FGM criminalisation law in the Egyptian parliament in 2012.
Notably, at that time, some political parties belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood encouraged people in villages to practice FGM and facilitated the means to perform it, which lead to a rise in civil, media, and institutional resistance against this backlash.
What procedures should be taken?
So, the question now is, what does the government have to do in order to end this disaster?
Answering this question, Head of the ECWR told Daily News Egypt that everyone has a role to do to end this bad practice.
“For this, the Medical Syndicate has a role in taking action against doctors who have done an FGM operation, and to convict them publicly through a press statement, to make every doctor aware about the punishment that they will face if doing this awful practice,” she said.
Besides, there must be a clear systematic policy in hospitals to raise awareness and confront this deadly crime.
She said the Ministry of Health must refer any doctor who is found to have committed this crime for investigation. Circumcision is a crime that is not subject to a statute of limitations but can be reported on the date of knowledge.
Concerning the Ministry of Higher Education, a curriculum must be generalised in medical and nursing colleges that educates and warns doctors and nurses of this crime and that earning money from mutilating a child’s body is one of the worst crimes.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education has to make girls and boys learn in science classes that their body is inviolable and is not permissible to harm; that any person committing violence on their body in any way must be reported, even if it is their father or mother.
Abdel Tawab stressed the need for consolidated and sustained efforts to work towards eradicating FGM.
“It is not only about awareness, but to educate girls, to have more employment for girls, we also need to use media that promote gender equality in order to end this irrational norm towards girls, as inferior to boys,” Abdel Tawab said.
Finally, DNE found that there is no origin for FGM in the holy books of all the Abrahamic religions (Islam, Christianity, and Judaism), the debate among its supporters and opponents has not ended, over time, FGM has acquired religious legitimacy deriving its real weight from the fact that its practitioners believe that it is their religious obligation, and moral imperative, to be adhered to. It is the fight of everyone in Egypt and around the world to stand against this violent practice.