(July 2007) The Egyptian Health Ministry issued a decree on June 28, 2007, that officially banned female circumcision, also known as female genital mutilation (FGM) or female genital cutting (FGC).1

Although a similar order was already in place to prevent hospitals and medical doctors from carrying out the procedure, it is still widely performed by nonprofessionals in the community. Just recently, though, Cairo readdressed the issue and banned FGM by any person, anywhere. The official statement was prompted by widespread outrage over the death of a 12-year-old Egyptian girl while undergoing the procedure.

Female genital mutilation, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund, and the United Nations Population Fund, is “the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for cultural or other nontherapeutic reasons.” Short-term and long-term consequences of the procedure range from intense pain and bleeding to infection and complications during pregnancy.2

Female circumcision is a deeply-rooted traditional practice in more than 28 countries in Africa, plus some countries in the Middle East and Asia, according to WHO (see table).


Prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation Among Women Ages 15-49, Selected Countries

Country Percent
Egypt, 2005 96
Mali, 2001 92
Burkina Faso, 2003 77
Ethiopia, 2005 74
Mauritania, 2001 71
Chad, 2004 45
Senegal, 2005 28
Tanzania, 2004 15
Niger, 2006 2

Source: ORC Macro, Demographic and Health Surveys.


WHO also estimates that between 100 million and 140 million girls have been subjected to the painful and often dangerous operation.3 According to figures from the 2005 Demographic and Health Survey in Egypt, 96 percent of women in Egypt have undergone some form of genital cutting.4

The government has warned that anyone who violates the ban will be punished, but specific penalties were not articulated. In addition, a ban lacks the enforcement measures of a law, which would require passage in the national legislature.

Nahla Abdel-Tawab, regional adviser of the Frontiers in Reproductive Health Program of the Population Council in Egypt, expressed guarded optimism about the ban. “With 50 percent of our parliament composed of peasants and workers, who are usually less educated, more conservative, and predominantly male, one would expect such a law to face a lot of resistance,” she wrote in an e-mail. “However, what matters more is that FGC has made it to the public’s agenda. FGC is being discussed freely on mass media and many people are starting to question its value.”5

Both Christian and Muslim families have chosen to have their adolescent daughters circumcised throughout history. In conjunction with the Egyptian government’s ban, the highest religious authorities in Egypt declared that FGM is harmful to women and has no basis in Christian or Islamic law.6 The First Lady of Egypt, Suzanne Mubarak, is also campaigning to end FGM. She recently called for a moment of silence during the third regional Conference on Violence Against Children to mark the young Egyptian girl’s death.7


Sara Maki is a Bixby Intern at the Population Reference Bureau.


References

  1. “Egypt Bans Female Circumcision,” MSNBC News, June 29, 2007, accessed online at www.msnbc.msn.com, on July 12, 2007.
  2. World Health Organization (WHO), “Female Genital Mutilation,” accessed online at www.who.int, on July 12, 2007.
  3. WHO, Progress in Sexual and Reproductive Health Research no. 72 (2006): 1.
  4. Demographic and Health Surveys, Egypt 2000, accessed online at www.measuredhs.com, on July 10, 2007.
  5. Nahla Abdel-Tawab, “RE: Egypt’s Ban on FGM/C,” personal e-mail, July 12, 2007.
  6. Magdi Abdelhadi, “Egypt Forbids Female Circumcision,” BBC News, June 28, 2007.
  7. “Fresh Progress toward the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting in Egypt,” UNICEF News Note (July 2, 2007), accessed online at www.unicef.org, on July 10, 2007.