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

Myanmar Fighting Poses Dilemma for China

To gain some insight into conflict, VOA’s Steve Herman spoke with Min Zaw Oo, director of ceasefire negotiation and implementation at Myanmar Peace Center More

Australia Concerned Over Islamic State 'Brides'

Canberra believes there are between 30 and 40 Australian women who have taken part in terror attacks or are supporting the Islamic State terror network More

Recreational Marijuana Use Now Legal in Washington, DC

Law allows adults 21 and over to privately possess and smoke 0.05 kilogram of pot, and to grow small amounts of the plant 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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More