Leslie Carol Botha: Sadly if old attitudes – and these are deep-seated – do not change they will infiltrate into a new country. It is not the laws in the country that are powerful… it is the attitude. And if cultural attitudes about female genital mutilation still abound they will rear their ugly heads in the New Egypt.
In New Egypt, Women Fear the Return of Legal Female Genital Mutilation
by Manar Ammar
September 4, 2012
“I was weeping and called on my mother for help, but the worst shock of all was when I looked around and found her standing by my side. It was her, yes. I could not be mistaken, right in the midst of these strangers, talking to them and smiling at them as though they had not just participated in slaughtering her own daughter just a few minutes ago,” writes Nawal al-Sa’dawi – the influential Egyptian feminist, novelist, physician and international speaker on women issues – in her book The Hidden Face of Eve: Women in the Arab World.
Sa’dawi was describing her own very real, very horrific experience of female genital mutilation (FGM) or circumcision. The ancient practice is forced on over 140 million women around the world, most notably in Africa, the Middle East, and South East Asia, according to UNICEF. FGM aims to keep girls ‘pure’ and to take away their ability to enjoy their own body, all in the name of virtue.
“When I returned home after having recovered from the operation, I asked my classmates and friends about what had happened to me, only to discover that all of them, without exception, had been through the same experience, no matter what social class they came from,” Sa’dawi recalls.
The New Women Foundation in Egypt put the number of women who go through FGM to be around 86 percent, while government statistics, as recent as 2008, claim nearly 91 percent of women have undergone the procedure. Current Egyptian law bans the practice of FGM and gives prison sentences to any medical staff who performs the surgery. However, many families still go to underground clinics for their daughters to have the procedure, risking permanent scars and even death.
“Why would anyone do that?” said Noha Yacoup, an activist and artist.
“Is it to further control and repress women?” Yacoup asks. “Not only are women treated as sex objects…and not worthy of independence, but to also rid a woman of her God-given sexual libido to make sure that she won’t sleep around?”
Yacoup, who was protesting in Tahrir Square during the 18-day revolution that brought an end to 30 years of tyranny, says she has not undergone FGM nor have any of her close friends. She notes that FGM is not often discussed. “Obviously it’s no topic for small talk.”
In June 2007 the news of 12-year-old Badour Shakour, who died on the operating table, shocked the nation. She was being circumcised and was given an extra dose of anesthesia and never woke up again. The nation was faced with the fact that no matter how strong our legal penalties are, it is up to families to grasp the inhumanity of the practice.
Shakour’s cause of death was an overdose of anesthetic, but her memory was the cause of an awakening that reached to the upper echelons of government.
The young girl’s death drove Egyptian activists to intensify the campaign against FGM. Women and children’s rights groups galvanized to push for more stringent penalties against those who carry out female genital mutilation.