The Global Fight Against FGM Goes Up A Notch With New Laws In The UK & Egypt

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Female Genital Mutilation is one of the most horrific acts inflicted upon young girls in certain parts of the world. For those not familiar, it is the act of cutting part of a young girl’s vagina in a sort of “circumcision” because of the cultural belief that is somehow makes her “pure” by eliminating part of her anatomy that is sexual. It is mostly performed by women in communities before a girl hits puberty or in her pre-teen years.

According to the World Health Organization more than 125 million girls alive today have been the victims of FGM, and it is mostly carried out in the Middle East and in Africa.

Egypt is a country that has an extremely high rate of FGM procedures being carried out. Research from 2014 more than 90% of married women have been exposed (between the ages of 15-49) to FGM and 35% of those agreed to their own daughters being cut (that figure is down from 69% in 2003). It is this cyclical problem that needs to be curbed and thankfully there are more and more laws and initiatives being carried out.

June 14 is National Anti-FGM Day in Egypt according to the UN, and this year the government made a big announcement on the day calling it the National FGM Abandonment Strategy.

“With the launch National Strategy on FGM/C abandonment today we look forward to the needed measures and mechanisms to institutionalize the strategy in the relevant ministries to ensure its implementation,” said UN Resident Coordinator in Egypt Anita Nirody.

“In 2015, Egypt witnessed a new milestone in the fight against FGM when the first doctor to be convicted of FGM was sentenced. But clearly, more needs to done to ensure that more FGM cases are being reported and prosecuted. The UN family with NPC and the Ministry of Health is working with the Prosecution office towards expanding awareness on the FGM penal code, and we hope that this will help the enforcement of the law,” she continued.

The initiative puts emphasis on medical professionals to recognize the dangers of FGM and abandon their practices, which they hope will then begin a trickle down effect to the women who still insist on having their daughters cut. The government’s overall plan is to reduce FGM by 10-15% over the next five years and they will launch a media campaign to raise even more awareness about this important initiative.

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The ministries of justice, health, and education, the prestigious Sunni Islam seat of learning Al-Azhar, Egyptian church officials, and the public prosecutor’s’ office are all working together on this initiative.

Female genital mutilation was made illegal in Egypt in 2008 and since that time there has only been one prosecution. A doctor was sent to jail for two years for the death of a 13 year old girl he performed FGM on in January of this year. Prosecutors have to do a better job of penalizing perpetrators in order for the message to be sent throughout communities.

It is the type of action that needed to be taken, yet some activist are skeptical of its power. The Guardian reports that the initiative needs to be implemented in more rural areas (commonly where FGM is most likely to take place) not just cities like Cairo and Giza where it was launched.

Some say that a trickle down effect is not the way to change perceptions and attitudes towards such an ingrained practice that has been around for “thousands of years”.

“There is no rights-based approach in this strategy, which is very disappointing. There is no emphasis on women’s rights to bodily integrity, to be free from violence, to sexual pleasure,” said Dalia Abd El-Hameed, head of the gender program at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

Another activist says the campaign needs to involve more NGOs and grassroots organizations which have been working to end FGM for a long time, but they are facing too much bureaucratic red tape.

Yet Vivian Fouad, an official with the National Population Council, which is spearheading the anti-FGM campaign says they do want to work with an array of organizations in order to change cultural attitudes and increase education on this topic.

“It’s not just a project – two years or three years and people will be convinced FGM is bad. It needs sustainable work, from government, from NGOs, [and] from institutions,” she said.

We agree that there definitely needs to be more rights-based education at the core of this plan, but we are also thrilled to at least see a campaign like this being launched. It is a start.

Elsewhere in the world, the UK is stepping up the fight toward FGM in a big way. Because of the huge migrant population in the country coming from areas where FGM is common practice, Prime Minister David Cameron has been made increasingly aware of this and other issues (such as child marriage and honor killings) happening quite frequently in his own backyard. According to NHS Choices, 60,000 women in the UK are estimated to be living with the effects of FGM.

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The UK government has done a great job in amending and creating laws in order to better serve its growing diverse communities against crimes that come from a world away and do not belong in the 21st century. One of the issues PM Cameron is keenly aware of is that FGM happens during certain “seasons”, often school holidays or during times when girls are away from authorities and schools. Parents send girls back to their country of origin where FGM is performed on them. The school holidays mean the girls have plenty of time to recover without raising suspicion by teachers.

In order to stop this from happening he has rushed through a protection order before the 2015 summer break which would allow local authorities, social workers and police to apply to the court to make anyone suspected of planning to take someone abroad for FGM surrender their passport immediately.

“Female genital mutilation is a cruel and barbaric practice. At last year’s global summit in London, I said we should not rest until this abhorrent practice is stopped everywhere. But the fact that it is happening right here, to young women and girls in our own country, sickens and appalls me. These new orders will help in the fight against this horrific abuse,” said David Cameron in a statement about the new law.

UK activist organizations are praising the move but say even more needs to be done in order to encourage people to report incidents of suspected FGM. The way the UK differs from Egypt’s new initiative is that they are making it a human rights-based campaign, which is an important message.

“It is fantastic that the UK is continuing to ensure that FGM is urgently treated as a human rights violation. We hope that the UK can become a model for other countries in terms of ending FGM, but psychological, emotional and health support is still urgently needed for survivors,” said Mary Wandia, FGM programme manager for Equality Now in a statement.

It is great that the UK is taking a stand. But we also need to see Egypt leading the way as they are unfortunately the country with the highest rate of FGM procedures being carried out. While it is easy to criticize parts of campaigns like this that are launched, overall we are happy to see that this is being made a priority by governments who’ve ignored it for far too long. Here’ hoping eduction, an increased awareness and action being taken will culminate in less and less girls around the world being robbed of something that belongs to them.

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