Fears of female genital mutilation revival in Egypt

Posted on 2 April 2012


Posted on 02 April 2012.

Auveen Woods
WVoN co-editor

Azza El Garf, a prominent member of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood and one of just 11 female parliamentarians in Egypt, has publicly denounced the 2008 ban on genital cutting (or female genital cutting, ‘FGM’) for Egyptian women.

“It is a personal decision and each woman can decide based on her needs. If she needs it, she can go to a doctor”, El Garf said, adding that the Muslim Brotherhood refers to FGM as beautification plastic surgery.

El Garf maintains that it is a woman’s choice, and hers alone, to choose to undergo the currently outlawed procedure in consultation with a medically-trained professional.

The reality however, for most women and girls who undergo FGM, is that it is often characterized by a lack of choice.

In 2005, a UNICEF report on FGM reported the practice was almost universal among Egyptian women of reproductive age, with an astounding 97 per cent having undergone the procedure. That figure has declined little since then.

Outside Egypt, the procedure is usually performed on girls between the ages of 9 to 12 years, prior to the onset of puberty, but the UNICEF report recorded the average age of girls undergoing FGM in Egypt was lower, at seven to 11 years old.

Children are not likely to be asked for their view, as Newsnight‘s Sue Lloyd-Roberts discovered when interviewing an Egyptian mother;

‘”Of course she must be circumcised,” said Olla, referring to the timid 11-year-old girl sitting beside her.

‘I asked Olla if I could find out from the child herself, her daughter Raaja, who sat shaking with fear, what she thought.

‘”There is no need to ask her,” her mother declared. “She doesn’t understand what we are talking about”.’

Initially, the Egyptian government banned FGM in hospitals in 1996, but because licensed practitioners were still allowed to perform the surgery elsewhere, the practice continued.

The Egyptian government implemented a full legal ban in 2007, following the death of Badour Shaker, a 12-year-old child who overdosed on anesthesia in an illegal clinic after the procedure.

FGM, or female circumcision as it is called by its proponents, is the practice of partially or totally removing the external female genitalia.

It can range from the most minor procedure involving the removal of the clitoris to the most severe form, where all external genitalia are removed and the vaginal opening is stitched nearly closed.

FGM is often done in unsanitary environments, using basic tools for doing the cutting and most often with the permission and assistance of mothers.

In Egypt two types are commonly practiced.

Type 1 involves removing the clitoris and Type 2 is the removal of the clitoris and the labia or the “lips” that surround the vagina; both mean removing those sensitive parts of female genitalia which make the sexual act a pleasurable one.

Female sexual pleasure is deemed to be incompatible with the concepts of “purity”, “honour” and “tradition” which lie at the heart of FGM in Egypt.

The principal justification lies in the belief that the procedure reduces the uncontrollable sexual desire of a female, thereby helping maintain a girl’s virginity prior to marriage and her fidelity thereafter, thus ensuring a daughter’s future marriage prospects

Despite being denounced by the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Ali Gomaa, in 2010, some religious leaders claim FGM is sanctioned by the Quran.

But in reality it has no doctrinal foundation; it is practiced by both Muslims and Coptic Christians in Egypt, illustrating its cultural basis.

Unlike male circumcision, female circumcision has no health benefits.

Immediate complications can include severe pain, shock, haemorrhage, bacterial infection, urine retention, open sores in the genital region and injury to nearby genital tissue.

Long-term, aside from reducing any sexual pleasure, side-effects of FGM can include psychological trauma, infertility and a higher risk of complications during childbirth.

El Garf’s support for the legalization of female circumcision, her opposition to resurrecting the National Women’s Council and to the “liberalisation of divorce” is a reflection of her conservative values as an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood:

“Family is the most important part of life,” El Garf said, adding that the husband’s job was to feed his wife and care about his family because together they are one.

“The woman’s job is to make him happy,” she added. “In Western society everybody is an individual. That system doesn’t work here.”

El-Garf, in line with the policies of the Muslim Brotherhood, has asserted the need for restoring the framework of ethics and values that the corrupt former regime endeavored to destroy for 30 years.

Being socially conservative is one thing, but to permit the practice of FGM as part of a “cultural revivalism” in celebration of political freedom would be misguided and diminish the equality of Egyptian women at the start of a new political era.