Drawing an FGM-free future in Egypt

Girls draw an FGM-free future in Egypt. Photo: UNDP Egypt

The village of Baroud in Qena governorate, Egypt, was preparing for a special Sunday: people came from the neighboring villages, boys wore their traditional “galabya” and rehearsed a folkloric dance, while girls displayed drawings telling their personal stories of genital mutilation. Boys, parents, teachers and local authorities came together to support and denounce Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

“I remember how painful this experience was but the bad memory made me stronger. They have to know that this practice harms us physically and emotionally. Let us live a normal life”, said Kamla, 15 year-old, who showed her drawing of a girl bleeding heavily after her genital organs had been cut.

Highlights

  • A law criminalizing FGM was passed in June 2008. For the first time in Egypt, a doctor received a fine and a jail sentence for practicing outlawed FGM earlier this year.
  • 70 villages were declared FGM-free since the start of the project in 2003.
  • A nation-wide anti-FGM awareness campaign was carried out which included TV spots, billboards, promotional materials targeting men, women and youth. Awareness meetings were held in primary and secondary schools, discussing FGM harmful consequences with students and teachers, social workers and parental board members.
  • Community, media and religious leaders were trained to create awareness about the need to abolish the FGM practice.

Many girls and young women in Egypt are still subjected to genital mutilation in the name of ‘tradition’.  According to Egypt’s 2008 Demographic and Health Survey, at least 91% of Egyptian women between the ages of 15-49 have undergone genital mutilation and 72% of the practice is conducted by medical doctors.  While the prevalence of FGM is down from 97% in 2000, combating it is a long-term endeavor that involves changing long-held beliefs.

The village of Baroud is one of the 160 villages covered by UNDP’s Abandonment of Female Genital Mutilation and Empowering Families Programme, funded by the European Union and the Government of Sweden, which aims to reduce FGM through economic empowerment, early childhood development and social-cultural counseling in the 15 out of 27 governorates across Egypt.

With the Programme’s support, a 5-year national strategy for FGM abandonment and family empowerment was developed, in partnership with local authorities, civil society organizations and several UN agencies, to reduce the FGM prevalence through creating a conducive socio-cultural political environment that helps families with girls at risk to abandon FGM through law enforcement, monitoring family rights programmes and mainstreaming FGM indicators in programmes addressing family issues.

The Abandonment of Female Genital Mutilation & Empowering Families Programme helped break the silence and mobilize various segments of the Egyptian society through establishing a network of citizens who are willing to combat FGM, developing the capacities of the media to play a supporting role in disseminating messages against FGM and integrating anti-FGM in the programs and curricula of educational establishments. FGM is now integrated in school curriculum in all primary and preparatory schools which contributed to a great mindset shift in the younger generation.

Awareness sessions targeting 20,000 men, women and youth as well as primary and secondary schools at risk of FGM, addressing students and teachers, social workers and parental board members were carried out. 

“I still see my daughters’ faces crying in pain and asking me not to do it. Years later, when I understood the damaging consequences of FGM, I saved my other three daughters”, said Anissa, a mother of 5 girls, who is an advocate against the FGM practice.

Vulnerable women were aided in acquiring national IDs so they could receive public services and were trained on developing home economics projects to improve their income.  Medical professionals received training on counseling and closing gaps in service and medical caravans were created to benefit almost 3500 villagers. Over 500 district attorneys are being trained currently by the Programme on the harmful consequences of FGM which help them assess FGM cases, ensure law enforcement and protect the rights of girls and women.

Putting an end to FGM requires a cultural shift, and changing the mindset of families and individuals is necessary to move FGM from a tradition to a crime.  Already, people are recognizing that it is illegal for doctors to circumcise and young girls in schools say that FGM is a crime. The National FGM Abandonment Programme, set to run through 2017, will continue to institutionalize the issue and work through families and individuals to change traditions.

“Keeping social momentum against FGM in Egypt will create a free-FGM generation. We hope the Egyptian families to completely abandon FGM in the future”, said Mona Amin, FGM Abandonment and Family Empowerment Programme Coordinator at the National Population Council.

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