Sunday, September 23, 2007

Egypt and Genital Mutilation

Court Backs Egypt's Ban On Mutilation

Published: December 29, 1997
In a judgment that women's rights groups say will resonate throughout the Islamic world, Egypt's highest court yesterday upheld a ban on the genital cutting of girls and women, a ritual widely practiced in Africa.

The decision by the supreme administrative court marks the culmination of several years of debate in Egypt between Government officials and some Islamic conservatives, who contend that the practice they call female circumcision is a cultural or religious issue, and not a matter for government or the courts.

Yesterday's ruling overturned a lower court decision challenging the ban that was imposed by the Egyptian Health Ministry in 1996. The ruling cannot be appealed. Violations carry a three-year jail sentence.

''Circumcision of girls is not an individual right under Sharia,'' the court said in its judgment, striking down the argument that Islamic law condones the practice. ''There is nothing in the Koran that authorizes it,'' the court said.

Asma Abdel Halim, a Sudanese lawyer based in New York who has been helping African women campaign against the practice, said that the Egyptian decision ''will give a tremendous boost to women, because they will now have a very strong weapon to use.''

''This decision from Egypt's highest court is really profound,'' Ms. Abdel Halim said in an interview yesterday. ''It is significant because Egypt has for a long time been the center of both Islamic scholarship and Islamic jurisprudence, and many people look up to Egypt.''

Ms. Abdel Halim said it was also important that in Egypt, as elsewhere where what women's groups call female genital mutilation is practiced, the battle is being waged by local women. The practice includes removing a girl's clitoris, and sometimes much of the outer genital area, to strip her of sexual feelings.

The ruling counters accusations that only outsiders -- ''neo-colonialists'' in the opinion of some who defend the practice -- are intent on ending it, she said.

In Gambia in November, a grass-roots organization called the Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices succeeded in persuading the Government to lift censorship on the subject of genital mutilation, giving private groups freedom to campaign against it.

Jessica Neuwirth, an American lawyer who is president of Equality Now, an international women's human rights organization that helped the Gambian and Egyptian campaigns, among many others, said on Sunday that Egypt's female genital mutilation task force should get the credit for making the issue of genital mutilation public. The task force included Government officials and representatives of a range of private organizations like the Egyptian Society for Prevention of Harmful Practices to Woman and Child.

The cutting of a girl's clitoris and sometimes the outer lips of the vagina -- rough surgery often performed by traditional practitioners or family members wielding knives or razors -- can leave her severely damaged, prone to infections and, frequently, incontinent. Many girls bleed to death during or after the procedure.

In extreme cases, women's organizations say, girls' or women's mutilated vaginas are stitched shut, then unstitched before and restitched after intercourse with their husbands, an attempt to make them appear to be permanently virgins.

In Egypt, where the practice is very common among not only Muslims but also Coptic Christians, private and some Government clinics have been teaching medical staff members and patients about the dangers of genital cutting.

Today's court decision ended -- at least legally -- a controversy that began when Egypt tried to stop the practice in Government hospitals and heightened after Health Minister Ismail Sallam announced in July 1996 that genital mutilation would be banned across the board in Egypt. The ban followed a long campaign by Egyptian human rights organizations and women's groups.

In June of this year, Mr. Sallam's ban was overturned by a lower court in a case brought by proponents of genital excisions, who argued that it was an Islamic practice. The leader of the challenge was Sheik Yussef al-Badri. He argued in court that Islam had condoned the practice for 14 centuries.


The Filthy Titan said...

Sweet! Finally, a bit of a bright psot of hope in the world. Truth is, we here in America focus on what we call gender discrimination, but throughout the world there are much more horrible things happening than anything we do here. (One of my favorite comments was from a South African who was one of our international students: " You people don't have race issues.")

I'm also bloody surprised. Egypt isn't a "lead the world" type, especially on an issue like this, which is so incredibly, inexplicably tied to Africa that I'm amazed anyone would go against it. I'ts a horrible practice, true, but how many horrible practices continue anyway?

Egypt is also strategically important. It's one of the most powerful Arabian nations both militarily and politically- the entire Six-Day War happened pretty much because Egypt wanted it to- and to have something so mighty turn away from this practice is an excellent sign. I'm hoping to hear that other nations reject the practice also.

This also might be a sign of change for Islam in Egypt. Truth is, Islam is very monolithic- it's not as fractured as Christianity, with hundreds of little different groups. With this rejection of something that has been condoned by Islam, perhaps the Egyptian government will- slowly, but perhaps surely- become more secular.

We can all hope! This is the happiest thing I've read all day!

freedom-is-slavery said...

Some could argue that female genital mutilation is the same as male circumcision. We must keep in mind that while some men believe circumcision affects the quality of the sexual experience, it cannot be argued that female genital mutilation only lessens her sexual experience; it completely takes away the ability to reach orgasm – the goal of sex. I wonder how many males would have sex if there were no reward at the end. The practice of genital mutilation only works to further ingrain in society that women exist only to serve men.

I am glad Egypt has banned this practice, but I doubt this will be the end of genital mutilation in Egypt. I do feel that we tend to look upon Muslim societies as far removed from our own. But I think that the US is only minimally advanced from Egypt. Our society has only recently (within the past 30 to 40 years) begun to realize the oppression and subordination of women. The US also practices sexual oppression upon women. Could anyone disagree that there is a certain level of women showing skin that is frowned upon by our society? Could anyone disagree that women do not enjoy the same sexual freedom as men (if they wish to) because of the labels that society places on her? If she enjoys sex and has many sex partners, she is a whore. If he enjoys sex and has many sex partners, he is a player or playboy and he is even somewhat expected to have more than a few partners. The words whore and playboy cannot be considered as alike in definition.

andsoitgoes said...

I think this is better use of democracy for womens rights than many things that have been done in todays culture.

Perhaps this could be used in the context of backlash. Just because now these women will be somewhat more protected from this horendous practice what will be the other ways the Egyptian/ Islamic society will find to control a womans choice and a womans body? A 14 decade practice that has had a previous ban that was not imposed is going to be hard to monitor especially when the practice is done in a hidden way.

Why it is great that the courts have upheld the ban and it is truly one of the greatest strides made for women I wonder if the lives of these women will truly be any better. Its almost like a utopia... good on paper bad in practice.

Thats my greatest fear is even with the stricter punishment for violations I hope these women are not still being taken advantage of.

This medical procedure, if you can call it that, sickens me. I couldn't imagine the pain, the stripped dignity and the constant health effects that follow genital mutilation.

I wonder how the men in Egyptian, African or any other society that practice this would feel if circumcison were as drastic for them. If they had penis skin sewn up or attatched in a way that every move they made hurt them.

While I am trying to look at this article in a way that does not pull me in personally I cannot keep the disgust and anger from welling up inside. I think this is a step, a call for all women to better understand what is going on in regards to other women worldwide. And to apply a theoretical idea to how I feel and see what needs to be done in this situation is the idea of women working in groups to better the sex.

But since women fight so bitterly with one another this seems a far away idea but I think in oredr to continue on these gains this is what MUST be done.

kydemocrat said...

Blog: Post #10

I was glad to read the comment from "freedom-is-slavery". While I have always been very strongly opposed to female genital mutilation, I was never sure how to respond to the arguments about how the U.S. does a similar procedure, albeit with males.

Although I had known that FGM removed much of the sexual pleasure from females' intimate experiences, I had never put two and two together to realize that that is the key difference between the two--- and therefore, is the reason that such arguments do not hold water.

Consequently, I find it insulting that the same term ("circumcision") has been applied to both procedures. I have a strong suspicion that the term was applied to the cruel, degrading, objectifying experience of FGM as a way to falsely make the two procedures seem comparable, and therefore, almost justify the action of female genital mutilation. However, when looking deeper into the subject at hand, it becomes obvious that the two are, in actuality, very incomparable.

For instance, male circumcision is often explained as a necessary precaution, due to the sanitary and health benefits that medical professionals argue that it has. Female genital mutilation, on the other hand, does not help in these areas, rather, it causes many sanitary and health complications. Further, as pointed out by “freedom-is-slavery”, male circumcision, to my knowledge, in no way interferes with sexual pleasure. Finally, it is my understanding that male circumcision can be opted out of by the parents, should they not want the procedure performed on their child. Due to the steep religious and societal pressure associated with FGM, I would doubt if the same opportunity would be as easily accessible.

whitney said...

I am really glad to have read this article. The ban on genital mutilation in Egypt gives me hope. It means that progress is being made and people are being educated. Its really scary to me how many people don’t know much at all about this horrible practice. Most of the time people do relate it to male circumcision here. My sister had an anthropology professor at
Rockford who said to the class something along the lines of, “Once it happens to women, then its mutilation, to guys here its just circumcision.” I was so upset to hear that someone who is supposed to know about these things, and that is in a position to inform others is so uninformed. The two practices hardly have anything in common. With female genital mutilation, young little girls are held down by people who they trust, and cut with anything from sharpened rocks to rusty knives. They are not in any sort of sterile environment. There is no sanitation and no anesthesia, and so many little girls die from this. There is not much here that tells me the two practices are similar. And for the record, I’m not a big fan of male circumcision in this country. I have heard that European countries don’t practice male circumcision, and that they think the U.S. is kind of off the wall for doing it.

Anonymous said...

This practice is one of the most gross and unfathomable things I can ever imagine. I hate the thought of this happening to someone behind the curtain of choice or religion. This is not a choice, I cannot imagine a little girl saying, “hey today I’ll have my genitals removed.” It is not her choice; it is an imposed choice that she better say yes to. No one would freely make this choice. Then there is the argument of religion. I do not care what religion it is, this practice intolerable and laws should be put in place to stop this torture of women. I do not care if it is religion or not, I am against anything that promotes, legitimizes, and sanctions violence against women. I think Egypt did a bold thing by keeping a ban on the torture practices of genital mutilation and it sets the tone for the debates to come because as the article said Egypt is a leader in Islamic law. I think everyone should get behind this movement and try to do what they can to stop these violent practices against women. I would like to see America do something to help the cause even if it is just making a statement against it. It needs to be known that these practices are wrong and will not be tolerated.

Scottye said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scottye said...

Disclaimer- I’m pissed off and appalled by this, my language will most likely be less than censored.

You know it makes me sick to think that this is happening. That women are being subjected to such horrors and bodily mutilations. What kind of monster would do such a thing to a living, breathing person? I want to regurgitate just thinking about it.

Religion has for the most part served no positive purpose. Here is a fine example of religion gone wrong. By treating these women as animals (they are being spayed essentially) Islamic tradition is doing now what Christianity did thousands of years ago, just to a more extreme degree.

I for one hope that these bastards get what is coming to them, and by that I mean I hope some how, some way, they get their genitalia ripped off in a horrible and painful manner. Why does this have to happen? What ungodly injustice did women do to men that required that we punish them throughout history in the most sadistic manner possible?

The answer is nothing. Women did nothing but exist. And for that men have taken out their aggression for thousands upon thousands of years. I wish this world didn’t exist sometimes. That we were all just some twisted dream and none of us were real. And it is because injustices like this occur.

If there is a hell, may there be a very special and torturous place in it for the bastards who hurt women like this.

Scottye said...

Upon reflection and having had numerous conversations about this topic I have decided to briefly talk about why genital mutilation is wrong. Some have pointed out that a moral assessment of the issue is moot because it is accepted within Islamic tradition. This is wrong.

Moral relativity has a place, but not in this argument. While it may be tradition to perform this procedure, and while many women may willingly subject themselves to it, they are being harmed. As stated in the article this procedure causes severe health issues for the women and even death.

My definition of an immoral act is something that causes unnecessary harm to any individual or group of individuals. For the purposes here this is clearly enough stated. But allow me to expound. Knowingly or unknowingly doing harm to someone is immoral. Being ignorant to the damage you are doing does indeed absolve you of much of the guilt. Yet the act in and of itself was still immoral.

Here’s an example: 2+2=4. Many people will think this is irrelevant, but what if you don’t have a full understanding of what 2 is? What if by some error in your education you think 2 is really 3. Then your answer becomes 2+2=6. Your answer is wrong, but you aren’t liable for the mistake because you were improperly educated.

The relativist argument in regards to female genital mutilation is basically the same thing, and can be defeated by the same means. Person A does not know it is wrong because they have been educating and desensitized to the horror and damage of the procedure, therefore individually they are exonerated. However, the act itself is wrong and Person A should be educated in regards to this accordingly.