by Beatrice Maria Zanella
Following the death of 13-year-old Suhair al Bata’a in June 2013, for the first time an Egyptian doctor will stand trial for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), which is defined as ‘all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons’ by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Several local and international human rights organisations asked for the case to be reopened after it was proven that the cause of death was the blood loss that occurred during this horrific practice. The girl’s family finally admitted that Suhair had been sent to the doctor to be mutilated. The private doctor who carried out the operation on the young girl will face the Egyptian court, together with her father.
Despite FGM being illegal in Egypt since 2008, it is still widely practised and, according to UNICEF, 91% of women between 15 and 50 are mutilated in Egypt; however, in only 72% of the cases is the procedure carried out by a doctor. In other cases, it is done by people with no medical training, generally elder women, who use instruments such as scissors, knives or glass, with no medical equipment- including no anesthesia. Even though it is more common among girls and women who live in the countryside, it is still practiced in urban areas too.
FGM is said to have ancient roots and to be connected to traditions and customs. However, today it is often justified by religious reasons instead, like protecting female ‘purity’ and reducing female sexual desire. Although many clerics deny the connection of FGM with religious principles, others assert its necessity.
FGM is not practised in Egypt alone; according to WHO, it is carried out in 29 African and Middle- Eastern countries. Usually performed on girls aged 5- 15, FGM is internationally recognized as a violation of human rights and as an indicator of gender inequality in the countries where it is practised. The practice “violates a woman’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death” (WHO).
Apart from being deathly dangerous, it triggers many other long term health issues, such as urinary tract infections, cysts and infertility; to name but a few. Although the UN and WHO, along with other partners, have tried to tackle this persistent problem, it still remains. However, the level of information being shared among people has increased ,and at an international level a legal framework has been created to end FGM.
Despite FGM being a major problem in African and Middle-Eastern countries, there are also around 500.000 mutilated girls in Europe, according to the European Parliament. In the USA, FGM is a crime but the number of circumcised women is believed to be considerably high. It is thanks to the victims of this practice that, especially in Europe and America, young girls are fighting against this cruel practice and are urging the governments to finally eradicate it.
One of the main reasons FGM hasn’t been eradicated yet is the cultural belief that it is a justified practice: in fact, many girls were mutilated when newborn or very young. Thus, they believe their situation to be normal. The majority of mutilations, as said, are performed by elder women, who ‘operate’ on young girls because they think it is correct to do so.
Being that this is the situation, it is crucial to change people’s minds before pushing the governments to implement laws and punish the mutilators, or before asking international organizations to create legal frameworks to eradicate this practice for good.