Updated: Jun 3
By James Hebish.
I like to think I know most things about my Egyptian culture–– the language we speak, the foods we eat, and the music we listen to. Recently though, I’ve been toying with the possibility that I might only know about the “good” things. Every society has values that should be preserved, and values that are toxic. Egypt is over 5,000 years old. In 5,000 years, we have certainly not been perfect. Egypt has more women who have been genitally mutilated than any other country in the world. At 20 years old, I am just finding out that many women I have known since childhood have been mutilated. Maybe it isn’t a surprise that I hadn’t heard about it. Most Egyptians tend to be socially conservative––and having your lady-parts chopped off isn’t exactly dinner-table conversation. Regardless, female genital mutilation (FGM) happens–– and it happens frequently. 87% of Egyptian women aged 15-49 have undergone FGM. There are roughly 50,000,0000 women in Egypt. You do the math. Although FGM takes many forms, in Egypt, it is the partial or total removal of a girl’s clitoris –– usually before she turns 14. Why? FGM is nearly always performed with the permission of the child’s parents. Some argue that it promotes chastity by preventing sexual arousal. Others say that it makes girls more “desirable” to future husbands. More often than not, it is actually the girl’s mother who advocates that her daughter be mutilated. The practice has been perpetuated by many Egyptian mothers who fear that their daughters will be socially excluded if they are not cut. As absurd as it seems, many Egyptian mothers force mutilation upon their daughters as an act of love. For them, they suffer just as much pain as their daughter when they watch and hear the midwife mutilate her. Still, they “selflessly” endure as for the what is perceived as the child’s moral well-being. Obviously, parents fail to take into account that by mutilating their daughters, they physically and psychologically scar them forever. Extreme pain, infection risks, and fertility risks aside, FGM victims are often left psychologically mutilated. 80% of FGM victims suffer from mood or anxiety disorders and carry an increased risk of depression, reduced social functioning, and suicidal thoughts. Interestingly enough, FGM is not a religious practice. There are no circumcised women in the Quran or in the Bible. In other words, FGM is neither a “Muslim” thing or a “Christian” thing. In fact, it isn’t even an Egyptian thing. It’s practiced all over the world: 200 million girls and women in 30 countries have been subjected to FGM. This indicates to us that the reasoning behind FGM transcends culture. It stems from a more universal form of ignorance. One view associates FGM with a cultural intolerance for androgyny. In the same way that male circumcision seeks to defeminize men, FGM seeks to emasculate women by eliminating any physical reproductive parts that do not conform to outdated definitions of sex. In other words, FGM eliminates external traces of androgyny to define a child’s sex. At its core, it is a forced effort to make sexuality binary. Although people of many religions practice FGM, one view ties the crime to the Abrahamic faiths. The idea that sexuality is binary stems from the creation story of the Abrahamic religions. Often times, FGM advocates invoke the “natural order of things” to justify the physical defining (mutilation) of a girl. They make the case that because God made Adam a male, and Eve a female, FGM is merely a medical procedure to rid the body of defects that do not conform with the God-given sexes. This begs the question, “how can cutting off a girl’s genital parts be considered natural?” I have no answer. Solutions As of 2015, 70% of Egyptian girls aged 0-14 were victims of FGM. Though on the decline from previous generations, this number is inadequate of keeping up with population growth. Each year, more and more girls will be mutilated. Although Egypt criminalized FGM in 2007, laws are scarcely enforced. Worse than this, 77% of the mutilations performed in Egypt are done so by trained medical professionals. FGM is most rampant in rural areas where social pressure is high and sexual education is low. In fact, research shows that it is actually less common in regions where women are more educated. As such, the most obvious solution to FGM is to educate women about their own bodies. This is where religion poses a threat: sex is a taboo subject in Egypt that needs to be addressed. In doing so, we will not only teach girls to advocate for themselves, but we will also prevent the practice from spreading to future generations. As a male writing this, I will never experience or be able to imagine the pain and violation that FGM brings to say many women. But eradicating FGM doesn’t start and end with women. While it is often women who ask for their daughters to be mutilated, men are just as complicit. Men must dispel the notion that mutilation makes girls more desirable to their partners. For FGM to be truly eradicated, fathers must advocate for their daughters and brothers must advocate for their sisters.