Egypt’s FGM conviction is a milestone - but what next?
Female circumcision is not a religious practice. Above all, it is a cultural practice that is outdated and unnecessary
This week, Egypt’s judicial system crossed a milestone for women: for the first time in history, a doctor was convicted for female genital mutilation. Raslan Fadl, the doctor who performed the procedure that ended up killing 13-year-old Sohair al-Bataa in a village in northern Egypt, was sentenced to two years for manslaughter, and an additional three months for performing FGM.
This isn’t just a great leap towards justice for Sohair’s family, rather for women all over the world who suffer from this out-dated procedure. What Sohair’s death, combined with this sentence, generated is an immense amount of noise for a crime that the United Nations estimates 91% of married Egyptian women may have had to go through.
Civil society is making a difference
Many accredit FGM to be a cultural issue. Activists have spoken out about it and there are numerous NGOs based in Egypt and the region that call for the practice to stop.
The statistics speak volumes: between 2005 and 2008, the number of women who supported FGM practices in Egypt fell from 41% to 31%, according to a U.N. report.
The head of the Women’s Center for Guidance and Legal Awareness led the efforts to bring this case to justice.
What the statistics do tell, however, is a scary story of what the future may hold. There are more women who would circumcise their daughters in the future, than those who are circumcised themselves.
The case of the convicted doctor is exactly what is needed to change this culture: even if the practice is supported within certain communities, doctors will now think twice before carrying it out.
Female circumcision is not a religious practice. Above all, it is a cultural practice that is outdated and unnecessaryYara al-Wazir
However, this also opens up a can of worms: without sterile environments where this procedure can take place, families may take matters into their own hands.
In 2008, doctors performed 72% of the circumcisions; this means that there is a significant part of the community who took matters into their own hands.
The Egyptian government needs to make sure that just as this doctor was prosecuted, so called ‘dayas’ and nurses must also be held accountable for their actions.
In Yemen alone, a report by the World Health Organization showed the death rate due to the procedure, or complications of the procedure, reached 2.3%. This means that there are more Sohair al-Bataa’s out there who have lost their lives. Their cases are yet to see justice, and this horrible breach on women’s lives is not receiving the attention it deserves.
The end is near – all we need to speak up
Female circumcision is not a religious practice. Above all, it is a cultural practice that is outdated and unnecessary.
NGOs are doing what they can, international organisations such as the U.N. and the WHO are doing what they can, and legislation is doing what it can.
The single missing link that can generate enough awareness to end this practice is for clerics and religious leaders to speak out to those who wrongly believe it is a religious practice.
It takes at least a generation or two to change a mindset. However, with this verdict, doctors will think twice before performing the procedure. Civil society NGOs will work ten times as hard to end FGM, because their efforts are finally being recognized by both the law, and by a new culture.
Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir