In a symbolic attack on the widespread practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Egypt, religious leaders and gender activists, have signed a public declaration calling for an end to FGM, in the hamlet of Abou Shawareb, near Aswan in southern Egypt.
FGM is a crudely performed operation to remove the clitoris from adolescent girls. It has been misinterpreted in strongly Islamic communities in parts of the Middle East and Africa, where it is widely practiced, as a religious rite of passage. However, the Islamic holy book, the Quran, does not call for female circumcision.
"Not all traditions are good. Female genital mutilation represents violence against women and is a violation of human rights,” Antonio Vigilante, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative said. The UN agency was a sponsor of the signing ceremony. The agreement represents a significant step towards eliminating FGM in Egypt.
Infections following such an operation, often carried out in unhygienic circumstances, are common and can lead to sterility, severe period pains and complications during childbirth, as well as loss of pleasure during sex.
“The UNDP has been working energetically with national partners to discontinue this harmful practice. Today we witness a clearly growing trend of rejection especially among youth, which makes us hope that FGM can be eliminated in Egypt within the next decade," he added.
The anti-FGM declaration was part of programme called "The FGM free Village Model." The campaign was established in 2003 by the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM), UNDP and various other donors.
The purpose was to counteract community and cultural pressures that led to FGM and to eliminate the practice in 60 villages within the six governorates of Assuit, Aswan, Beni Suef, Minya, Quena and Sohag in Upper Egypt.
After two years, the project’s use of various education and training approaches reaching out to families, health workers and religious leaders, has made inroads. According to UNDP, the community of Abou Shawareb was able to overcome cultural pressure and convince families not to circumcise their girls and symbolically declare themselves an FGM-free village.
Although the practice is officially illegal in Egypt, statistics show that the vast majority of females still suffer from various versions of FGM around the country. The practice is almost universal in rural areas.
According to a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) study in 2000, 97 percent of Egyptian women had under gone some form of genital cutting.
Since the mid 1990s, the government has actively campaigned to end the practice of FGM with information and education campaigns and the incorporation of the topic into school curricula.
In 2003, the Egyptian First Lady, Suzanne Mubarak, threw her weight behind the issue by launching the “Egyptian Girl” campaign, which sought to end all forms of violence and abuse, including FGM, aimed at young girls.
On a larger scale, the FGM free village model project has established a mechanism to coordinate a national movement against the practice under the umbrella of the NCCM and to incorporate hundreds of Egyptian volunteers working to end FGM.
The project plans to expand cover from 60 to a total of 120 villages in the near future.