The Devastating Reality of an Illegal Procedure
Female circumcision, also called female genital mutilation (FGM), is one of the most contentious health topics in the world today.
Though you might not hear about it often, depending on where you live and what you study, it’s a largely illegal procedure that affects hundreds of millions of women and girls around the world, especially in Africa, Indonesia, and the Middle East, as well as in countries with large populations of immigrants from these areas.
The subject of much debate among anthropologists, human rights groups, and the United Nations, female genital mutilation is steeped in a contorted history of culture and religion, healthcare and wellness, and the status of women within the societies that practice it.
Now, following the death of a 17-year-old girl in Suez, many Egyptians are in an uproar over the illegal operation and the fact that it is still being carried out clandestinely in local hospitals.
Here are the tragic facts.
In the coastal city of Suez, Egypt, about 75 miles from Cairo, 17-year-old Mayar Mohammad died from severe bleeding and a drop in blood circulation caused by an illegal female circumcision procedure carried out in a private hospital.
This marks Egypt’s first reported death from the operation since 2013, when a 13-year-old girl died from the surgery. The doctor in that case, Raslan Fadl, was charged with manslaughter and lost his medical license, and the girl’s father was also charged for agreeing to the procedure. Female genital mutilation has been illegal in the country since 2007.
The government has since shut down the hospital in Suez, and organizations and friends alike have spoken out against Mayar’s family:
“Mayar died due to ignorance and backwardness of her mother, who regarded her daughter as guilty only because she was created a female,” wrote one friend online. “Performers of such criminal operations must face strict measures,” said Egypt’s National Council for Women in a public statement on the matter.
As defined by the United Nations, “Female genital mutilation comprises all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons and is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.”
Female circumcision has, however, been practiced since antiquity. Written texts documenting the procedure date back to Ancient Egypt as well as Greek records of visits there. Though it was practiced across all levels of society, it later became associated with slavery, as female slaves were circumcised or infibulated in order to prevent pregnancy. Conversely, the surgery associated with slaves soon came to represent honor, argues Gerry Mackie, a political scientist who specializes in the study of harmful social practices, since such procedures became associated with ownership, loyalty, and obedience.
Of the estimated 200 million women alive today who have undergone FGM, the majority live in a small concentration of about 27–30 countries, largely in Africa, ranging from Senegal to Somalia, Tanzania to Egypt. Egypt, Somalia and Indonesia are believed to be home to over half of all these women, with as much as 98% of the female population aged 15 to 49 having been cut in Somalia. Egypt is the country with the largest population of cut women with about 87% or 27.2 million women and girls.
Contrary to popular belief, religion does not always play a big role in FGM. While there is no mention of it in the Bible, Christian missionaries were apt to oppose the practice, although a 2013 UNICEF report stated that in Niger, 55% of Christian women and girls had been cut compared to just 2% of Muslim women. Only one Jewish group is known to conduct FGM, the Beta Israel of Ethiopia, although male circumcision is required by the religion.