Summertime is greatly anticipated by all, in particular school children as they begin to embark on their longest holidays which are often fun-filled and memory worthy; however, this is not the case for the schoolgirls of Egypt. Summertime is a period of dread for these females as they get ready to be sat down and told by their mothers that they will soon be subjected to female genital mutilation, with the assistance of a willing doctor or ‘midwife’.
In 2008 FGM was officially declared illegal in Egypt yet it continues to occur on a regular basis often killing many girls who do not survive the ordeal, and butchering those who do. Egypt accounts for one-fourth of all FGM cases worldwide according to the UN, with 91 per cent of all women being subjected to the procedure. The operation itself involves the young girl being pinned down by family members so her limbs can be kept apart to allow the cut to be made.
If the girl is lucky, the operation is performed by a doctor where anaesthetic is used, however, with a midwife there are no pain-relieving drugs and the procedure is often carried out on the floor in dirty surroundings. The process leaves its victims with both physical and mental trauma which affects them for the rest of their lives. Menstruation and intercourse become very painful ordeals for these women as they often experience excess bleeding whenever they occur. Not the mention the unhygienic nature of the wound which can become easily infected, causing a very painful demise for the individual on top of the trauma of being cut. If a doctor or midwife is unavailable, some families will resort to gypsies who also do not use any anaesthetic and finish the process by throwing dust and salt on the wound to try and stop the bleeding. A horrific portrait of the reality of this culture becomes vivid.
Yet the tradition of this practice continues. But why? With the predominant religions in Egypt being Islam and Christianity, religion and culture are the driving factors behind the continuity of this painful and life-consuming process. The members of these communities believe that without being cut a girl will grow up to be promiscuous and badly behaved, due to the pleasure derived during intercourse from the designated cut area. Therefore, in order to preserve the family’s pride, the daughters and wives of these households are subjected to the violence of FGM. The image of chastity and purity is still a strong concept within these communities and the male members feel as though dignity for a female is only derived through being cut.
However, the entire process is based on a misinterpretation of the Quran. Senior Imam, Mohamed Suleiman, has spoken out to all Muslims that the Prophet Muhammad did not advocate female circumcision and that it is by no means necessary when practising Islam. Therefore these girls are being subjected to this ordeal for no valid reason at all. Yet despite being outlawed on religious grounds too, these communities continue to torture their daughters.
There has however been an active attempt to stop these practices from occurring and although their success rate may be small now, it is only set to grow. With the dangers and risks of FGM now being taught as part of the national curriculum, the generations to come will have a better knowledge and understanding of the practice and will hopefully be able to decide that it needs to come to an end.
Medical school students and doctors are also being educated and informed about FGM, reminding them especially of the illegality of the operation. They are being taught that the money they make from doing these operations is nothing compared to the pain and trauma they are causing their patients, and that it is essential to remember their duty as doctors to heal and protect society.
NGOs have also taken a stance against FGM providing health seminars to parents to advise them about the dangers involved and the risks it can expose a young girl to. Married couples also receive talks about how FGM makes their sex life difficult and how both members could benefit from the female not being mutilated. These combined efforts are slowly changing the attitudes in the area, allowing young girls to develop a voice and have a say about what happens to their bodies – a right we easily exercise here in Britain. Girls find it easier to speak about the process in front of their parents now and express their disdain about being mutilated. This is a great power shift for the girls of Egypt and eventually their opinions will hold ground when it comes to FGM.
Slowly but surely results are being reaped from these programmes and efforts; however, the stigma of tradition and outdated thinking still exists, overshadowing the full potential of these changes. The parents that do decide to change and go against the conventional practice, often get shamed and their daughters can become outcasts. However, these decisions to not circumcise daughters are becoming more and more popular and hopefully, there will come a day when the school girls of Egypt will look forward to summer, as they should.