Female genital mutilation, misguidedly called “circumcision”, is a long standing tradition never discussed. WHO reports the practice is widespread in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East. And according to UNICEF’s annual report on female genital mutilation (FGM), 91% of Egyptian women have had their genitals somehow injured in an attempt to curb sexuality and promote chastity and cleanliness.
This practice, fueled by the dangers of female sexuality, is often perpetuated by women themselves on their daughters, while men perceive it as a “normal” tradition, passed down in their family through generations.
The procedure is usually carried out by local women (midwives) on girls ranging from infants to adolescents with a scalpel, blade or even a pair of scissors.
Most of girls are given a local or general anesthetic to numb the pain, but around one quarter are given nothing.
The most common side-effects of this surgery are excessive bleeding, intense pain and a feeling of „just having been butchered”, as a FGM survivor once reported.
Other consequences may include urination issues, infections, infertility, childbirth complications and even death.
But there are some consequences no one used to openly talk about: the emotional and psychological traumas:
“I ran out of my house onto the streets screaming when I saw the midwife. My mom eventually caught me, helped the midwife hold me down and did the operation,” said Samya Shehata, 35, an Egyptian woman.
“I will never forget when my mother said, ‘Let’s go,’ and I knew what she was talking about. I fainted from the pain and bled a lot. When I woke up after the operation I felt like I was butchered,” another FGM survivor said.
“Sometimes, I wake up at night screaming, just remembering,” said Sara, an Egyptian mother who refused to subject her own daughter to the practice.
Although in 2008 the Egyptian government criminalized the practice and religious leaders have declared it dangerous and without any spiritual justification, rights advocates say it continues to be widespread.
A study led by the Egyptian Ministry of Health and Population in 2003 showed that over 94% of married women had been exposed to genital cutting and 69% of those women agreed to the procedure being carried out on their daughters.
In another study the girls were asked for reasons to support FGM. Their answers included that the practice is an important religious tradition (33.4%), it ensures intimate cleanliness (18.9%), it is a cultural and social tradition (17.9%), and it promotes chastity (15.9%).
The good news is women are starting to talk and many of them refuse to carry on the tradition on their daughters despite all family and social pressures.
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