This week, UNICEF issued a report on female genital mutilation (FGM). It stresses the importance of continuous data gathering to inform policymakers and programmes, as a vital part of all efforts to eliminate FGM. German NGO Wadi and Hivos welcome the amount of exposure this report has received and fully endorse the need, amongst others, for further research on the prevalence of FGM, particularly in the Middle East. This is the more pressing in the light of a discrepancy between the findings of UNICEF and Wadi.
In Kirkuk for example, Wadi and its partner Pana documented in 2012 that FGM exists in areas outside Kurdish communities of Iraq. Surveying 1212 women in Kirkuk, field workers obtained the first empirical proof that women in the Arab and Turkmen communities of Kirkuk practiced FGM, proving that this is an issue the entire nation needs to confront. 38.2% of interviewees reported they have been mutilated. 118 of these victims were Arabs. A further 56 were Turkmen.
UNICEF stated that ‘data from Iraq show that FGM is only practised in a few northern regions, including Erbil and Sulaymaniyah, where the majority of girls and women have undergone the procedure’, concluding that ‘it is practically non-existent in other areas of the country.’ This observation stands in contrast with findings in Kirkuk from Hivos partners Wadi and Pana.
“Studies by Wadi as well as interviews with medical professionals indicate that the practice is much more prevalent than previously thought, including in non-Kurdish areas”, says Wadi director Thomas von der Osten-Sacken.
The UNICEF surveys in 29 countries show that girls are less likely to be cut than they were some 30 years ago. On the other hand they show that the practice remains almost universal in Sudan and Egypt. “This underlines the fact that we should remain very concerned and continue to step up efforts to eradicate FGM”, says von der Osten-Sacken.
Download the Open Letter Wadi has sent to the UN in March 2013 questioning some of the the results of their MICS research in Iraq.
Gatestone Institute 18.07.2013, by Irfan Al-Alawi
While overshadowed apparently by the general civil conflict over the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) regime in Egypt, the spreading problem of female genital mutilation (FGM) has recently shaken the land of the Nile.
Yet the mass upsurge against the tyrannical fundamentalism of the MB is related, however obscurely, to the protests against FGM.
Late in June, British media reported that Suhair Al-Ba’ta, an Egyptian girl aged 13, died during an FGM “operation.” She reportedly perished from blood loss while subjected to FGM in a village north of Cairo. The latest terrible “death by FGM” of a girl in early adolescence provoked widespread outrage at the practice. Disregarding public opinion, representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood, according to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), defended FGM as “Islamic.”
FGM has been illegal in Egypt since 2007, after the death in an anesthesia overdose during the mutilation of a 12-year-old girl, Budour Ahmad Shaker. The Egyptian government previously attempted to suppress FGM in 1996, and to reinforce the injunction against it in 1997. Egyptian officials affirmed in 1997 that FGM was not justified by Islam, and were supported in condemning it by scholars from the Al-Azhar Supreme Council of Islamic Research, based in Al-Azhar, the preeminent university in Sunni Islam. The Al-Azhar authorities stated that cutting female sexual organs — even partially– has no foundation in Islam, is medically harmful, and should not be carried out.
Dr. Naglaa El-Adly, research director for Egypt’s National Council for Women, has argued that the Muslim Brotherhood used its influence to prevent enforcement of the laws against FGM. Dr. El-Adly, like other experts, asserts that FGM is an ancient pagan custom in the region, with no basis in Islam. She noted the existence of the problem among Egyptian Christians, and has called on media and religious leaders “to tell people it is not related to Islam or Christianity.”
17.7.2003 by Stop FGM Mideast
The highest religious authority in Egypt has – once again – condemned female genital mutilation. In the current climate with fears rising last year that then ruling islamists could decriminalize FGM, this is an important signal and success in the struggle against FGM. Yet, the practice remains widespread in the country.
A representative of Dar Al-Ifta, an official body responsible for issuing religious edicts based on the rulings of the religious Al-Azhar University, has told a summit in Cairo that FGM is “not a religious duty” and should be prohibited. Mohamed Wessam Khedr addressed representatives of the Egyptian government, Al-Azhar, Unicef and the Egyptian Coalition for Children’s Rights on June 20st, Daily News Egypt reported. “FGM is practised in a harmful way that makes us say that it is forbidden in Islam,” he said. The meeting was held to commemorate Egypt’s inaugural National Day to Fight FGM – established in 2007 after a girl died during the practice.
The Al-Azhar, situated in Cairo is probably the most respected Islamic university in the Muslim world, condemned FGM already in 2006. At a conference taking place at the University, theologians from different Muslim countries concluded that female circumcision is forbidden by Sura 95, Verse 4 of the Koran: “We have created man in the most perfect image.” A joint statement read: “Female genital circumcision is harming women psychologically and physically.”
The practice was criminalized in Egypt in 2008, with those found guilty standing to receive between three months and two years in prison. They can also be fined up to 5,000 Egyptian pounds (543 Euro).
Nevertheless, FGM remains widespread. More than 90% of women are assumed to have undergone the torture of FGM – not least due to the lack of law enforcement and special legal provisions (FGM is still permitted under the pretext of dubious „medical reasons“).
After the fall of Mubarak the new government dominated by religious forces as the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists raised fears, that it might come to a backlash regarding FGM, even to an abolishment of the anti FGM-Law. The official positions were to say at least ambiguous. A Salafist MP claimed the practice to be part of the propehtic Sunna and proposed a new law, Egypt Independent reported. The Muslimbrothers remained mostly tacit on the topic, yet sponsered a charity medical campaign during which FGM was performed. The recent death of a 13-year-old Egyptian girl during an FGM-operation in a private clinic led to a broad discussion.
Against this background the renewed religious ruling against the practice of FGM is not to be underestimated. It is a clear signal from within an important part of the religious establishment towards islamist forces, that the controvers discussion about FGM has finally arrived in the Muslim societies itself. The claim of radical islamist forces to define the “right” muslim answer towards FGM is contested by the highest religious authority in Egypt. This development also contains an important lesson for uncritical Western observers: The practice of FGM is not a fate for some people, based on unalterable “cultural” or “religious” traditions or beliefs. Yet it also reminds us, that ending FGM will be a long term process, which has to be monitored constantly.