Decline in FGM among Egypt's young women recorded by UN

Survey by alliance shows sharp drop in cases of the practice among girls aged 13-17 compared to their mothers

A badge reads "The power of labor aginst FGM" is seen on a volunteer during a conference on International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Cairo, Egypt February 6, 2018. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
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The results of a UN survey conducted in Egypt in 2021 have shown a sharp decline in the number of female genital mutilation cases being conducted on the country’s young women.

Egypt's Social Solidarity Ministry said the survey, conducted on behalf of Egypt’s social protection programme Takaful, found 52 per cent of women aged 13 to 17 were victims of FGM, compared with 90 per cent recorded among their mothers.

The ministry attributed this decline to a recent toughening of penalties against doctors or nurses who perform FGM operations in Egypt.

This penal code amendment, approved by Parliament in January 2021 and ratified by President Abdel Fattah El Sisi three months later, stipulated that anyone convicted of performing FGM faces a prison sentence of five to seven years. This increases to 10 years if the victim dies during the procedure, a fairly common occurrence, particularly in rural Egypt.

The new law also dictated that any medical establishment that allows FGM would be shut down for the duration of the prison sentence handed to guilty medical professionals, provided that it can be proven that the owner of the establishment knew about the procedure.

“Toughening penalties on FGM last year was definitely a big step in the right direction,” Dr Reham Awad, co-founder of Restore FGM, an NGO which offers treatment for survivors of the practice, tells The National.

“But I think much more will need to be done because this is a practice that dates back to the pharaohs and it is carried on by an overwhelmingly large number of Egyptians, regardless of their religion.”

Ms Awad said that in Egypt the majority of FGM procedures are carried out by medical professionals.

Though this makes it safer than in countries where it is performed under less stringent conditions, the perceived safety has contributed greatly to making more widespread in Egypt.

Ms Awad said FGM education among the country's young people was the most important step towards further reducing the practice, which she says was carried out for reasons that range from unproven health benefits to beautification.

The results of the survey follow a pattern of decline in FGM cases that has been witnessed in Egypt, the ministry said.

The percentage of FGM cases recorded among married women and girls in the 14-49 age group fell from 92.3 per cent in 2004 to 87.2 per cent in 2015, it said.

A sharper drop was evident in the 15-17 age group, from 74.4 per cent in 2008 to 61.1 per cent in 2014.

However, some experts are taking the findings with a pinch of salt because of the absence of additional information on the survey's methodology, sample size and comparative analysis with other reports on the issue.

"Many of us tried to get our hands on this report to analyse its findings and methodology, but it hasn't been published for peer review," explains Amel Fahmy, managing director and founder of Tadwein Centre for Gender Studies.

"While the figure the ministry announced does seem in line with our own findings for that specific age group, it would be erroneous to frame it as a large-scale decline in FGM in Egypt, since we do not yet know if the survey's sample size was large enough to warrant such a bold proclamation."

Tadwein recently published its own report on FGM in Cairo. The report analysed 4,000 households in Greater Cairo alone.

Updated: February 21, 2022, 4:36 PM