EGYPT: Secret abortions help women circumvent honor violence

Mannar Amar – WNN Features

Young woman in a crowed city street.
In a country where almost half of women who need birth control are taking contraceptives and one in every five births is unplanned, women in Cairo must go through abortion in secrecy to avoid any disgrace in the family. Image: Bikya Masr

(WNN) CAIRO: *Twenty-two year old Amira went through a clandestine abortion to escape society’s retributions. She was in love with her boyfriend of five years and insisted that the pregnancy was an innocent mistake.

When she first realized that she was late on her menstruation cycle she felt helpless and did not know who to trust.

“I couldn’t ask any of my friends because they would judge me as a sinner and would never speak to me again; if they said anything to anyone and the word reached my family, I could have been killed,” she admitted.

Amira is referring to the practice of honor killing, a social and cultural agency by families “to wash away their disgrace.”

The families murder the woman who as “sinned” as a means of reclaiming the family’s honor and pride in society. Hundreds of cases go unreported and undocumented, the few ones that do get little attention from the media or judicial authorities. Men are seldom punished harshly for the murder they have committed.

A lot of the time families do not need or wait for any physical proof of the woman’s indiscretions, rumors alone are sometimes sufficient to cause an honor killing.

In September, two brothers along with their uncle were accused of murdering their sister after hearing rumors about her. The three men had dragged the girl along with her three year old child to an isolated area and then strangled her with a head scarf in front of her baby. Police said that they stabbed her in the chest and the stomach with a knife to make sure she was dead. Later that night, they dumped the body in the sewer system where it was found and taken to the coroner’s office.

The deceased, Karima Metawe, 20, was married to a butcher who works in Libya. Her brother and uncle alleged they had heard rumors that she left the house to go out, while leaving her child behind. Therefore, they took her life to ‘restore’ their family’s honor.

Amira doesn’t know Karima, but she knows that the odds are against her if word got out about her pregnancy.

With no one to seek advice from, she turned to her boyfriend, who tracked down a doctor’s phone number from a friend who had faced a similar situation.

“Men are lucky that they are not judged by each other,” Amira commented on the larger support system that grants men a more privileged societal position in Egypt.

Despite all the social and moral ostracism that Egyptian women go through when faced with the question of abortion, a study by Huntington in 1998 found that the induced abortion rate in Egypt is is 14.8 per 100 pregnancies, a staggeringly high number. Compared to the United States – where approximately two percent of women aged 15-54 have an abortion- Egypt’s abortion rates are seven times higher.

22-year-old Amira had to wear a fake gold wedding ring around her finger and make up a story of how her “husband” and she couldn’t afford to raise a child at that point in time.

“I was aware that he knew I was lying, but I couldn’t tell the truth; I was ashamed,” she admitted.

Egyptian law criminalize abortion and courts would find a woman guilty if she seeks an induced abortion, even in cases where the woman has died of an unsafe abortion.

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