News / Middle East

Female Genital Mutilation Still Widespread in Egypt

Interview with Egyptian Activist Nehad Abud Komsani
X
April 30, 2013 7:33 PM
Egyptian activists are concerned that the rise of Islamist politicians could undermine years of work to discourage female genital mutilation. But as Elizabeth Arrott reports from Cairo, the practice and the movement against it have far deeper roots in the country.
Watch the interview with Nehad Abud Komsan
Elizabeth Arrott
Egyptian activists are concerned that the rise of Islamist politicians could undermine years of work to discourage female genital mutilation. The practice, and the movement against it, however, have far deeper roots in the country.

To its supporters, it is a sign of purity, community and religious devotion. To its opponents, it marks the physical manifestation of a woman's degradation.

A counselor talks to a group of women to try to convince them that they should not have female genital mutilation performed on their daughters, in Minia, Egypt, Jun. 2006.A counselor talks to a group of women to try to convince them that they should not have female genital mutilation performed on their daughters, in Minia, Egypt, Jun. 2006.
x
A counselor talks to a group of women to try to convince them that they should not have female genital mutilation performed on their daughters, in Minia, Egypt, Jun. 2006.
A counselor talks to a group of women to try to convince them that they should not have female genital mutilation performed on their daughters, in Minia, Egypt, Jun. 2006.
Female genital mutilation, FGM, is an ancient custom in Egypt, with references pre-dating both Islam and Christianity. The practice remains widespread, with estimates today suggesting as many as 90 percent of Egyptian women are affected.  

Egypt criminalized all forms of FGM in 2008 and rights monitors say the number of girls undergoing the operation has dropped by about one third.

But Nehad Abud Komsan, director of the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights, said the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood and more conservative Salafist politicians threaten those gains.

“They come to say 'we may have a law to make it [legal] in a certain condition, or to say it is good for protection. They are destroying years of efforts to protect girls and women in Egypt and, unfortunately, by using religion,” said Komsan.

Courts have rejected legal challenges to the current ban, but with the judiciary and the government of President Mohamed Morsi at odds, worries are growing. Adding to concerns are predictions that Salafists are poised to do well in parliamentary elections later this year.

Komsan says non-governmental work on the ground and respect for motivations are key to changing attitudes about FGM.    

She divides people who support FGM into three groups: those who see it as social and cultural ceremony; those who believe it will help women control their sexuality; and those who believe it is mandated by religion.

She said offering alternatives is easiest in the first two groups. By substituting different, non-invasive rituals that celebrate either womanhood or community, the spirit of the occasion is preserved, without the damage to a woman or girl's body.

Political activist and filmmaker Hala Galal described the efforts of one village that chose to reject FGM.

“Even the lady who was supposing to do this operation herself, by her hand, she also swear and she also stopped and now she is doing something like weddings. I mean she changed her career also,” said Galal.

As for those who think FGM will keep women from expressing their sexuality, Komsan argues that training the mind is a far more effective, and humane approach.

“They have to understand that protection is not by cutting a part of our body but by educating them, and ourselves, how to control our life and by sending our girls to school,” she said.

It is the third part, said Komsan, that is the hardest.  

“I always joke and say FGM is a sign of unity between Muslims and the Christians in Egypt because most of them believe it is a part of their religions,” she said.

It is not, and even though both the head of the prestigious al-Azhar Institute and Christian leaders have spoken out against the practice, the link to religion remains.  

Political activist Galal said there is yet another issue anti-FGM advocates face: the charge they are trying to impose western values on Egypt. “I tell people who accuse us of making this and serving the western agenda, I tell them. 'What is the other agenda, to oppress women?'”

It is an uphill battle for anti-FGM activists, but one marked by both legal and grass-root successes so far. Their worry now is that in the current political climate, the road ahead may be even steeper.

You May Like

Changing Under Pressure, IS ‘Potent’ as Ever

US intel officials describe Ramadi's fall as concerning, but say it isn't emblematic of larger effort to degrade IS capabilities More

Nigeria Fuel Shortage Shows Fragility of Africa’s Oil Giant

Although it is the largest oil producer in Africa, country has nearly ran out of fuel it needs to power its generators, cars and airplanes over the past week More

Arrested Football Officials Come Mainly From the Americas

US Justice Department alleges defendants participated in 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through corruption of international soccer More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: joe from: sarr
April 30, 2013 6:04 PM
why we should care!!!!!!

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Cari
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
May 27, 2015 9:31 PM
Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs