Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Egypt's Battle against Female Circumcision ; A New US-Egypt-Funded Survey Shows More Women Here Are against the Practice

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Egypt's Battle against Female Circumcision ; A New US-Egypt-Funded Survey Shows More Women Here Are against the Practice

Article excerpt

In a sign of hope for tens of millions of African women, Egyptian activists have begun to eradicate female circumcision, an ancient practice, also known as female genital mutilation, or FGM.

The operation, carried out by doctors, midwives, and even local barbers on the vast majority of women here, involves removing parts of a woman's genitalia.

The exact origin of FGM remains a matter of wide speculation, but in countries where it is prevalent, including Egypt, most men and women who condone it believe circumcision is the only way to guarantee a woman's chastity and marital fidelity.

FGM is thought by Western scholars to date back to the age of the Egyptian Pharaohs. An estimated 120 million African women have undergone the procedure, with 2 million additional year. The practice, affecting 22 nations, including Sudan, Ethiopia, plus Kenya, is particularly widespread in villages that run down the Nile River into the heart of Africa.

But for a practice perpetuated by force of ancient tradition, signs of change in Egypt are giving a boost to anti-FGM activists.

Whereas a US-funded survey four years ago showed that 8 out of 10 adult Egyptian women approved of the practice, a new US and Egypt- funded survey shows roughly 7 out of 10 Egyptian women support it.

In some of Egypt's governorates, where the practice was carried out on some 99 percent of young women just two years ago, activists, well-funded by the UN and other agencies, are finding new hope. Some Nile villages such as Beni Suef are approaching 75 percent eradication.

Organizers of Egypt's grass-roots campaigns give most of the credit not to international aid programs but to homegrown activists like Farha Moris.

One of the circumsized women in Beni Suef, Ms. Moris has helped to change opinion here. Moris did not speak of her own experience until recently, when she met Joann Salib, a modest but determined Coptic nun who heads a coalition of Christian and Islamic groups working against the practice.

Moris says she'd been ordered by family not to talk about her experience, but now she freely tells about the day relatives gathered to inform her that the time had come for her and two sisters to undergo the procedure with the local barber.

"I was sad and afraid, but my mother and father told me, 'You are the oldest of our three daughters, so you must be strong and set a good example,' " she recalls. "All three of us were forced to submit."

After Moris met Sister Salib, she began to understand she wasn't alone. And early last year, she had her first opportunity to save a relative from the barber's knife. …

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