When it comes to spreading awareness about matters of public concern, direct communication is infinitely more effective than indirect communication through the mass media. The topic of female genital mutilation (FGM) is one stark example. The dangers of FGM are well known to health professionals and social scientists, but it will take time and effort to obliterate that deeply-entrenched practice. Regrettably, the tradition is still widespread, despite the fact that it is not only very dangerous but is also banned by law.
The Youth Bishopric, for its part, has been helping to give public airing for the risks and undesirability of the practice through holding seminars about FGM in churches located in poor, underprivileged areas where the highest incidence of this ancient but appalling tradition is encountered. In the weekly Family Meeting at Mar-Girgis (St George’s) Church in Ard al-Geneina in Cairo, Yvonne Adel, a gynaecologist and volunteer worker with the Youth Bishopric, presided over one such seminar on FGM.
Delivering her message in a simple yet engaging way, Dr Adel gripped the audience’s attention when she began by saying: “A happy life is not only about being in church, but also about what we do in our lives outside the church. This is why Jesus Christ told the bleeding woman after he had healed her, ‘Go in peace’.”
She explained that the circumcision God requested from Abraham was a symbol of consecration, and that this has been replaced in the New Testament by baptism. Circumcision was for eight-day-old male babies, and it was never mentioned in the Bible that it applied to girls.
Dr Adel explained the anatomy of the female reproductive system and genital organs in simple language. She said the organs included nerves and capillary blood vessel networks that were strongly interconnected and protected. FGM, she said, reduced the protection and exposed the organ to infection, possibly giving rise to one or more of several diseases.
Dr Adel stressed that the process was fraught with danger, yet it did nothing to ensure a woman’s ‘purity’. She used real-life examples of cases she had personally encountered in her career as a doctor, One 18-year-old woman was brought to Dr Adel’s clinic because she had missed two periods. “I discovered that she was pregnant and was having affairs with more than one man,” Dr Adel said. “The girl was circumcised but, obviously, circumcision did not protect her chastity.”
She explained that sexual desire emanates from and is controlled by the brain, not the genital organs.
Speaking of another case, Dr Adel said: “A young wife came to me complaining of pain during intercourse, but after checking her I found nothing. She kept coming to see me although she wasn’t at all ill. So I asked her if anything was upsetting her, and she told that whenever her husband touched her she remembered that day when she was nine years old and she was firmly tied up to be cut. Screaming, she had to endure severe pain. She couldn’t dispel this memory, and this caused her psychological problem and physical problems with her husband.”
In one of the churches where she served, Dr Adel said, a young woman told her she had been the victim of her mother’s ignorance. She suffered from incontinence and had had to wear pads ever since she was circumcised at the age of ten. Dr Adel explained that this problem occasionally occurred during circumcision when the blade hit the urethral orifice.
Another woman, the mother of three daughters, told Dr Adel that she had circumcised two of them and they had non-stop bleeding, so she took them to hospital where they were treated. After that she decided not to commit such a crime against her third daughter.
Even if the FGM operation were to be performed by a doctor, it is still banned by the law. Doctors may resort to using a topical anaesthetic, but there are in this area of the body so many nerves that cannot be anaesthetised and the cutting is very painful; the severe pain may cause shock and even lead to death.
“We must let our daughters grow into self-confident women proud of themselves and their bodies. We should not cut their flesh as if there were something wrong with them,” Dr Adel said.
23 November 2015