Friday, June 29, 2007

Egypt Bans Female Genital Cutting Completely



After the death of a 12-year-old girl in Upper Egypt from genital cutting, the Egyptian government has completely banned the practice. There has been a general ban for ten years, but it allowed exceptions. That loophole has been closed.

Female genital cutting involves removing part of the clitoris. It is an African practice, engaged in by pagans, Christians and Muslims in Africa. It is not generally found in the Levant or Asian Islam and is not prescribed in the Quran or the early Islamic sources. It is said that the purpose is to reduce the female sex drive and so preserve the honor of the clan, which derives from the males of the family being able preserve the chastity of their female members. But since the practice has pagan African origins it may originally have had other purposes.

Egyptian modernists have campaigned against the practice, including physician and novelist Nawal El Saadawi and Egypt's first lady, Suzanne Mubarak.

The incidence of the practice has fallen from about 90% in the older generation to about 70% among younger Egyptian women; it is primarily a rural practice and seems to be declining as Egypt urbanizes. The complete ban, with penalties for medical personnel (modern or traditional) who carry out the procedure, should help end it, though folk practices are hard to change overnight.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

As you point out, female genital cutting is a traditional practice with African roots, rather than anything prescribed by Islam. But it's worth noting that even in Africa the practice is entirely unknown in the Muslim countries of North Africa - Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco.

András

Anonymous said...

This scourge is similar to traditional Chinese foot-binding, which ended only under Mao. There are still many women alive today with horribly deformed feet, as a friend of mine brought home to me some years ago.

rachel said...

Two points:

1st--Female genital cutting *can* mean the removal of part of the clitoris. But much more common is the removal of the *entire* clitoris, and very frequently the entire labia majora. (In subsaharan Africa, where, as you mention, the practice is widespread, the procedure takes place under conditions that are far from hygienic. For example, maasai girls are taken into a dark dung hut, held down, and a man who has just finished drinking a mixture of blood and cow's milk slices off the genitals with a bit of tin that has been sharpened by rubbing against stone.) At any rate, "part of the clitoris" may not accurately describe the level of mutilation that most women suffer.

2nd--the myriad supernatural beliefs of subsaharan africa are best described as animist, or shamanistic. "Paganism" is less than optimal--an not entirely accurate--for several reasons. (Wikipedia has a good explanation)

Anonymous said...

I researched this for a law school human rights paper and found the practice was at various times found in Australia, parts of Russia and Central America in addition to Africa, where it survives today. It seems to be related to superstitions about twinship. The circumsized person, male or female, has something of the opposite gender removed from them, and it therefore able to enter marriage.
The suffering exacted by the tradition seems a high price to pay.

Anonymous said...

Not only is the clitoris and labia majora removed, ALL external genitalia are often removed. "In its most extreme form—infibulation—almost all the external genitalia are cut away, the remaining flesh from the outer labia is sewn together, or infibulated, and the girl's legs are bound from ankle to waist for several weeks while scar tissue closes up the vagina almost completely. A small hole, typically about the diameter of a pencil, is left for urination and menstruation." When a girl marries, her husband has the option of forcefully breaking open this infibulation on her marriage night. Furthermore, after a woman gives birth, she can be re-infibulated. Not only is FGM occuring in Somalia, Ethiopia, Egypt etc, it is even occuring in the US and in Europe among immigrant communities. Here is a 1995 article from the Atlantic that gives more detail about what is happening:
http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/
199510/female-genital-mutilation

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uknowme said...

I researched this for a law school human rights paper and found the practice was at various times found in Australia, parts of Russia and Central America in addition to Africa, where it survives today. It seems to be related to superstitions about twinship. The circumsized person, male or female, has something of the opposite gender removed from them, and it therefore able to enter marriage.
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