Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Egypt Eradicating Local Tradition through Global Intervention Strategies

By Nissrin Hoffmann


Introduction: Female genital mutilation (FGM) or circumcision is the partial or total removal of female genitalia. The practice of FGM has been found across the globe; according to the WHO about 140 million girls and women worldwide are living with the consequences of FGM. It is largely widespread in 28 African countries and a number of Middle Eastern and Asian countries. In Africa, about 92 million girls age 10 years and above are estimated to have undergone FGM. Approximately 72% of girls and women between 15 and 30 years in Egypt undergo female genital mutilation (FGM). This paper highlights the current situation of FGM in the world, particularly in Egypt where the rate is high (92% of women aged 15-49 years old are circumcised.)

Objective: The main objective of this study is to investigate whether FGM is more of a cultural practice than a religious one.

Method: The research used a descriptive design in analysis based on extensive library research. Egypt was chosen as a case study because of its high prevalence of FGM. Sources were secondary references such as peer-reviewed journal articles, scholarly books and articles etc. The source materials were researched from public libraries and online databases, such as Proquest®. Thorough examination of secondary data and related literature was adopted.   Qualitative analysis was used to comprehensively review the related literature about the nature and implications of female genital mutilation for human rights. 

Results: Societies performing female circumcision usually view the procedure as an integral component of their social norms and cultural tradition as well as part of their religious obligation.  FGM is widely related to the Islamic religion, possibly because of Islams obligatory male circumcision and the prevalence of FGM among Muslim societies.   However, obligatory female circumcision is not mentioned in the Quran, and not every Islamic society performs it, though a large number of non-Islamic societies do. According to several historians, female circumcision is a Pharaonic practice in ancient Egypt, though early Egyptian writings depict only the circumcision of males. That FGM is more of a cultural tradition than a religious practice in Egypt is supported by the fact that followers of both Islam and Christianity in Egypts countryside perform it (whereas Christians and Muslims in other parts of the world do not). Even in several fully Christian societies, existing evidence indicates every female endured some form of circumcision. Ethnographic research has identified roots of pervasive FGM in Egypt in: (i) obedience to religious teachings, (ii) increasing the sexual satisfaction of males, (iii) protecting female celibacy and virginity, and (iv) acquiring social approval. In Egypt and other parts of the world, physicians, qualified traditional birth attendants, midwives, and nurses perform FGM, despite ethical constraints on performing medically unnecessary procedures. As such, FGM is considered a violation of human rights, particularly of children, since it can harm normal genitalia and result in psychological and physical problems from pain, infection and scarring. It is in view of these violations that numerous national governments have ratified laws against female circumcision. In 1979, the World Health Organization opposed FGMs medicalization. The disapproval of medicalization was underscored in the interagency declaration on the eradication of female circumcision that was approved in 2008 by ten United Nations organizations. Moreover, several national governments have ratified laws that ban female circumcision and governments have integrated FGM into the education of medical practitioners.

Conclusion: FGM takes place in all levels of education, social classes and religious groups. Because the Quran does not regard it as mandatory, FGM must be considered more a cultural tradition than a religious practice. FGM violates childrens human rights to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health’ (CRC, Article 24). Several governments and national agencies have ratified laws banning female circumcision. However, laws alone cannot eradicate FGM since it is done underground on the perception of religious or traditional practice. Interventions such as education and awareness programs can be proposed to eventually eradicate this practice. Is it appropriate for traditions such as FGM, which are rooted in the cultural principles of a given society to be subjected to the assessment of outsiders? Cultural traditions are reasonable and admissible when they coincide or comply with the values taught in Quran, or other documents that define local morality. Female circumcision is not obligatory in the Quran and should be questioned as a tenet of Islam.