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Egyptian University First to Fight Against the Scourge of FGM

(Illustrative photo: © Creative Commons/Joshua Conley)

The head of the obstetrics department in the Faculty of Medicine at Al-Zagazig University Dr. Abd el-Majid Sarhan said he will not wait for the high council of the universities to include anti-female genital mutilation (FGM) course materials in the curriculum of the school.

He will begin to teach against it immediately.

Speaking to the well-known Egyptian news outlet Alyoum A-Sabi  (The Seventh Day),  Sarhan said he will include a series of lectures that include materials and different methods of combatting FGM to his  sixth-year medical students, marking a first in Egypt.

The assistant secretary general of the high council of universities said he was open to receiving curriculum proposals against FGM from the heads of the departments of obstetrics and gynecology from medical schools across Egypt.

FGM is a brutal procedure involves the cutting out of all or part of the external female genitalia. The practice is normally carried out on young girls just before or after the onset of puberty, but is also performed on newborn babies and older girls.

The procedure serves no medical purpose and is known to cause complications such as severe bleeding, problems urinating; cysts, infections (including HIV/AIDS); pain and difficulty during sexual relations as well as lack of sexual feeling, infertility, complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn death.

A group of senior women obstetricians in Egypt, in cooperation with a national program sponsored by the Ministry of Health and representatives from the high councils of universities and judges, began an initiative against FGM last week to put an end to the practice after it was discovered that 82 percent of FGM procedures in Egypt were being performed by doctors.

Even though FGM became a criminal offense in 2007, Egypt has one of the highest rates of FGM in the world.  A loophole written into the law allowing FGM for “health reasons” has helped facilitate the continuation of the practice.

This is in spite of the fact that at the time the law was passed, Egypt’s state-appointed grand mufti stated that FGM was forbidden by Islam.

A study conducted in 2005 showed that over 95 percent of all women in Egypt had undergone FGM.

The secretary general of the Dar al-Ifta, the official body that issues written fatwas for the Egyptian government, Dr. Mohammed Wisam, said that FGM is completely prohibited according to sharia law. Moreover, he stated that not cutting women protects them from divorce and reduces complaints between husbands and wives.

Those who object to the law forbidding FGM, he said, are basing their arguments on nonsense.

Wisam noted that Dar al-Ifta has responded to those who call for the practice of cutting women by publishing official fatwas against the practice. He also said FGM causes mental and physical damage to women.

According to the law, conducting FGM is a crime punishable by three to 15 years in prison. However, in practice, there have only been two prosecutions in Egypt since the law was passed, and only one resulted in a prison sentence. Initially, the sentence was two years in prison, but it was ultimately reduced to three months through a plea deal.

Reda Eldanbouki, executive director of the Women’s Center for Guidance and Legal Awareness in Egypt and the lawyer who prosecuted the case, noted, “The purpose [of the law] was just to show civil society inside Egypt that, look, we are fighting FGM, we have laws.”

Public opinion in Egypt is predominantly in favor of FGM as the custom is deeply entrenched in the psyche of the country.

Even though he later apologized for his comments, Ahmed El-Tahawy, an Egyptian MP and member of the parliament’s health committee, recently said that FGM is necessary because of “contamination.” Without it, he declared, “an undesired state of sexual arousal” can occur.

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