We sometimes take it for granted that certain issues are heading in the right direction; besides, it is easy to be lulled into false optimism when something is not constantly in the news. I had believed that Egypt was right on track towards putting an end to female circumcision or female genital mutilation (FGM); that is, until a recent discussion by Parliament’s Health Committee rudely woke me up.
The discussion, which centred on the role played by the Ministry of Health in combating FGM, exposed that the representatives elected to serve the interest of the people, themselves have mindsets rooted in the dark ages.
A few days later I met a university professor and our conversation wandered to the suggested changes to the Child Law, which condemns the circumcision of girls. I was shocked by his opinion that the detrimental effects of FGM were overstated. This professor even described the proposed law as a foreign intervention or a ‘new fad’.
National initiative needed
I wish to make it clear to such men that the initiative to prohibit FGM had its roots within Egypt, and was demanded by civil organisations as far back as the 1950s. However voices at that time were weak, and the subject had to be raised with delicacy because it was regarded by all sectors of society as taboo — both by those who practised it and those who wished to pretend it did not exist.
When Egypt became signatory to international treaties prohibiting discriminative acts against women and their protection from violence, there was heated discussion on FGM. However, only when CNN aired a documentary on female circumcision in Egypt did the topic come out in the open.
Entire villages in Upper Egypt have prohibited the practice, signing petitions against circumcision. This has been the most effective way to combat the practice so far, since individual moves against FGM have been next to useless, merely earning public censure.
Yet another young girl died last February during an FGM operation. More laws and law enforcement are needed. Regretfully, it appears that those who should be enacting the laws, the MPs themselves, need to be made aware of the merits of such a law. Until legislation criminalising FGM is passed, fighting the practice will be harder but, hopefully, not impossible.