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

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces a Chaotic World and the Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt 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.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid