Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “any operation involving partial or total removal of female genitalia”.
FGM is widely-considered to be one of the worst forms of violence against girls and women globally. It remains one of the most serious issues facing present-day Egyptian society, alongside the prevalence of domestic violence and sexual harassment. The prolonged practice of circumcising girls and women dates back at least 2500 years, which explains why it is often referred to as a “Pharaonic” practice.
In February 2016, the United Nations celebrated the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM; it was estimated that 200 million girls and women globally have undergone the practice in 30 countries. Pivotally, half of this staggering figure can be attributed to 3 countries: Egypt, Ethiopia and Indonesia. Pivotally, Egypt has made positive efforts to combat the practice. If we look to the relevant statistics which reflect the levels of FGM in Egypt over time, we can see the gradual decrease in figures, and thus the effectiveness in the policies and strategies taken by the Egyptian government. In May 2017, the National Program for combating FGM stated that between 2005 and 2015, the percentage of girls who experienced FGM has decreased from 74% to 55% respectively. Although these figures remain high, such deeply-entrenched cultural and religious practices are often difficult to combat, and the approach taken by Egypt, in both addressing FGM from a legal, religious and cultural lens proves an interesting case study.
In June 2008, Egypt criminalised FGM in the Penal Code by establishing a minimum sentence of 3 months to a maximum of 2 years or a penalty of a minimum of 1000 Egyptian pounds and a maximum of 5000 Egyptian pounds. Moreover, some amendments have been added to the Child’s Act (1996) in 2008, in which legal protections for children include safeguards against violence and abuse, including FGM.
Along with adopting legislation, some efforts have been made in the enforcement of legislation. In 2008, Egypt hosted a meeting which resulted in a legal document on FGM called “The Cairo Declaration for the Elimination of FGM”, with the purpose of launching an international campaign to focus international attention on and raise awareness of FGM. Furthermore in 2007, the Ministry of Health issued a decree to prevent anyone including health professionals from performing FGM in any hospital or clinic. Due to the importance of religion in people’s lives, especially for those who believe that FGM has a religious basis, there was a statement in 2007 from Al Azhar Supreme Council for Islamic Research reiterating the stance that FGM has no basis in Islamic Sharia.
On 31 August 2016, the Egyptian Parliament approved various amendments to the Penal Code regarding FGM. The amendments increased the prison terms to 5 to 7 years for the perpetrators of FGM and up to 15 years in cases where FGM results in a permanent disability or death.
On the day marking the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM on 8 February 2018, the United Nations praised the efforts made by Egypt to reduce FGM from 2008, to approve strict penalties for perpetrators of FGM and to adopt Strategy 2016-2020.
Pivotally, education has proved an essential tool to cultivating change in Egypt and local and community attitudes towards FGM, especially considering the fact that a vast number of women in Egypt, particularly in rural areas, cannot read or write. Egypt therefore has to continue working on educating girls and women about the practice and its devastating consequences. Furthermore, implementation of the existing laws and the strengthening of law enforcement should be prioritised moving forward; cases of FGM should be reported immediately and those who perform FGM practices must be criminally condemned and brought to justice.
Egypt Independent, ‘Teenage FGM rates in Egypt drop 13% in six years’, (19 February 2018), available at: http://www.egyptindependent.com/teenage-fgm-rates-in-egypt-drop-13-in-six-years/ [accessed May 2018].
Spiegel Online, ‘Women in Egypt; Harassed, Mutilated and disenfranchised, Genital Mutilation in Egypt: Part 2’, available at: http://www.spiegel.de/international/tomorrow/genital-mutilation-in-egypt-stop-taking-your-daughters-to-be-mutilated-a-1199322.html [accessed May 2018].
Women of Egypt Mag, ‘An Advocacy Movement to Empower the Women of Egypt, FGM: the Controversial Issue with No Solutions in Sight’, (7 January 2018, Nagwan El Deeb), available at: https://womenofegyptmag.com/2018/01/07/fgm-a-controversial-issue-with-no-solution-is-sight/ [accessed May 2018].
Human Rights Watch, World Report 2018 – Egypt, 18 January 2018, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/5a61ee7d4.html [accessed 28 April 2018].
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Universal Periodic Review- Human Rights Council, ‘UNICEF Inputs- Egypt’, available at: http://lib.ohchr.org/HRBodies/UPR/Documents/Session7/EG/UNICEF_UPR_EGY_S07_2010_UnitedNationsChildrensFund.pdf [accessed May 2018].
Human Rights Watch, ‘Egypt: New Penalties for Female Genital Mutilation’, (9 September 2016), available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/09/09/egypt-new-penalties-female-genital-mutilation [accessed May 2018].
Egypt Today, ‘UN Hails Egypt’s efforts to eliminate female circumcision’, (8 February 2018), available at: https://www.egypttoday.com/Article/2/42215/UN-hails-Egypt%E2%80%99s-efforts-to-eliminate-female-circumcision [accessed May 2018].