EGYPT: Gynecologist & Cairo woman discuss female mutilation

Nanna Sejsbo – WNN Features

Building on the streets of Ail al Adha, Cairo.
Building facade on the streets of Ail al Adha - Cairo, Egypt 2006. Image: Simona Scolari

(WNN) CAIRO: Heba, a 27 year old Egyptian woman, closes the door, offering a tray of glasses of sparkling red Karkale-nectar. Hibiscus-petals swim to the surface of the drink.

The walls of her apartment are likewise painted in clear colors, and the floors are lined with pillows.

Heba does not live with her family, but with friends – something quite uncommon for a young Egyptian female. Though her life seems fairly ordinary– she works, sees friends and visits her family now and then– she is unusual.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 100-140 million women worldwide are circumcised, and an estimated 90% of Egyptian women are subject to the female genital mutilation (FGM), generally known as circumcision.

Although Egypt made FGM illegal,except in certain circumstances in 1997, the Egyptian government passed a more severe law in 2008 completely banning the practice, following the death of 12-year-old Badour Shaker in June 2007 during a circumcision.

However, female genitalia are still often cut in most of Egypt.

Amr Muhammad, a doctor dressed in white scrubs, opens the door to a hospital in Dokki, Cairo.

A soon-to-be graduate student of medicine and the doctor’s nephew greets him with a manly hug. These two men share a clean-cut technical approach to talk of birth, genital parts, constructed norms and rites of tradition.

Doctor Amr sits down behind his desk and calls for coffee and tea from reception. A young man enters and places a tray of starch black coffee on the bare desk. The door closes and leaves the clear light reflected on the bare walls of his consultation.

In Cairo, nine months have passed since former President Mubarak was wrested from power.

It is a mere two days after civilians were brutally murdered downtown by the same military which was “one hand” with the people just nine months earlier.

Heba did not participate much in this. She had her own battles to fight. She squats in the couch and starts a part of her story as a female growing up in Egypt.

Heba comes from a family with four daughters. As a child she remembers trying to look over the shoulders of her aunts performing a circumcision on her cousin. But she was not allowed to look.

That cousin was someone she looked up to. The cutting of her genitalia was not something that was “done” to her. It was a part of life, compatible with having the first period, getting married, having sex with your husband: a ritual confirming a young girl’s ‘womanhood.’

Heba remembers that her mother asked her to come upstairs, where female family members were waiting for her.

“She was saying all these things about being pretty, and at that age, you don’t wanna be unpretty,” she says with a grin. “Had I known back then, I would have fought her.”

The doctor smiles vaguely, as he picks up the topic of the talk tonight: Female circumcision.

The WHO defines the FGM procedures in stages, stage three being the most extensive operation.

The first level is a moderately simple removal of the clitoral hood or partial or total removal of the clitoris. This is the far most common one in Egypt.

From here, the span goes to type three, known as infibulation. It means a total removal of all external genitalia, causing a layer of skin to form outside the entire vulva as the wound heals.

By inserting a thin stick in the healing wound, a small hole is left as a passage for urine and menstruation blood.

“Myself I never performed a circumcision, but my colleagues tell me that it was a fairly ordinary practice here until the 1997s,” he says ”but in the years from then and until 2008, where it was made illegal, it became less ordinary.”

“I have only been repairing,” he says, referring to those one or two times a week, when a young woman will be brought in with a ‘traumatic case,’ as he calls it. This is a circumcision performed in an illegal, unauthorized clinic or in the home. The woman is often bleeding heavily and needs stitching.

Amr is obliged to report these cases to the police. But he does not always do so.

“They made a law, but I didn’t see anything change. People are doing it, and they always will. So I hesitate to report – it might put the families in great trouble,” he says.

In Hebas family, they did it as well.

“We went upstairs, and I was sat down,” she recounts, “My mother left me to my aunt and my grandmother. My grandmother sat behind me and put her feet down between my legs, pushing my thighs open with her ankles. My hands were held back.”

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