Egypt launched a national strategy to fight the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) in 2016. In 2020, the strategy’s executive plan drew to a close. Several domestic and international bodies took part in the implementation of the strategy.
The strategy was prepared by the Ministry of Health and Population in cooperation with the United Nations to reduce FGM in Egypt. This was to be achieved by activating and enforcing the law to prevent the crime of FGM and punish its culprits. In addition, the strategy included supporting public and civil authorities to publish information and scientific, religious, and legal facts on FGM, establishing a surveillance system, evaluating practice rates on the national level, alongside promoting a social and cultural environment that encourages families to refuse the practice.
The following analysis examines the magnitude of FGM in Egypt and how the successful the national strategy has been.
FGM in Egyptian society
According to the latest health census, completed in 2014, FGM prevalence rates in the procreating age (15-49) was about 92 percent, down from the 2005 census by 4 percent. As for young girls in the 15-17 age group, FGM prevalence has decreased from 74 percent to 61 percent.
Regarding the age when FGM is performed, it has been observed that more than 75 percent of FGM cases are performed on girls with ages 9-12, 14 percent are performed on girls under 7 years old, and the smallest percentage of 4 percent are performed at age 13-30. Therefore, it can be concluded that most cases of female genital mutilation happen before the age of 12. It should be noted that the reduction in the percentage of FGM cases for ages 15-49 will continue to be limited, as most of these women have already been mutilated. Consequently, the strategy has given more attention to reducing FGM rates by 10 percent to 15 percent among the new generation in the age group 10-19.
Legislation and procedure
The strategy stressed the need to enforce national policies and legislation, and international conventions that require the abandonment of FGM. Moreover, the strategy focused on enforcing the criminalization and accountability of its perpetrators or collaborators, both at the legislative level and in the regulations and decisions of the Ministry of Health. This issue has witnessed successive developments.
In 2008, the first legislation for the protection against FGM was promulgated, when the Penal Code was amended to provide for penalties that criminalize female genital mutilation. Article 242 stipulated that anyone who carries out FGM shall be punished with imprisonment for a term no less than three months, and no more than two years or a fine not less than EGP 1,000 and not more than EGP 5,500.
In 2013, the Supreme Constitutional Court endorsed the Criminalization of FGM Act and dismissed the action made by some religious extremists to repeal the FGM Criminalization Act of 2008.
By 2016, under Act 78, the penalty was increased, so that anyone who genitally mutilated a female “without any medical justification” was imprisoned for a term no less than five years and no more than seven years, and with rigorous imprisonment “if the mutilation led to a permanent disfigurement or if it led to death”. Additionally, the imprisonment of a term no less than a year and no more than three years for anyone who requested the mutilation of a female, and that female was genitally mutilated at his request.
The upsides included the following amendments: a definition of FGM identical to the one given by the World Health Organization (WHO) was added, as the pre-existing definition was vague; and the crime of FGM was turned into a felony rather than a misdemeanor, which increased the time of the right to report such a crime, giving girls a chance to report the incident themselves after several years.
In 2021, the Egyptian legislature considered the term “medical justification” in the Act to be a loophole used by some doctors to commit that crime, so the Act was amended to read: “Anyone who circumcises a female by removing a part of her genitals or flattening, altering or mutilating, or inflicting injuries on those organs shall be punished by imprisonment for a term not less than five years. If the act results in permanent disability, the penalty shall be aggravated imprisonment for a term not less than 7 years. If the act results in death, the penalty shall be rigorous imprisonment, for a term not less than 10 years. The penalty shall be maximum imprisonment if the person who performed the circumcision is a doctor or nurse, and if the offense results in permanent disability, the penalty shall be maximum imprisonment for a term of not less than 10 years. If the act leads to death, the penalty shall be rigorous imprisonment for a term of not less than 15 years and not more than 20 years.”
According to the amendment, the court shall, in addition to the above-mentioned penalties, deprive the FGM perpetrator of his or her job for a period not exceeding 5 years. If the offense is committed due to or in connection with the performance of his or her duty, the perpetrator shall be deprived of the exercise of the profession for a similar period. Moreover, the private establishment in which the FGM was carried out shall be closed, and if it is licensed, the period of closure shall be equal to the period of prohibition of the practice.
Regarding the regulations and decisions, Prosecutor-General Nabil Sadek issued a periodical book to all members of the prosecution office. The book, which became a reference to prosecutors, was related to increasing the penalty for FGM offenses. Accordingly, they must complete investigations that include FGM offenses.
Additionally, in 2017, the Minister of Health and Population also released a periodical book, in which hospitals and all public, private, and private health facilities are required to report to the police when receiving cases of complications of FGM, such as hemorrhage, etc. In the same year, to protect females’ rights, FGM was added to the Faculty of Medicine curriculum as an unprofessional practice, to establish an ethical medical attitude towards that practice.
Despite all the merits in the recent amendments, fears amount that the penalty will increase “especially for the victim’s parents”, which might prevent the reporting of these crimes, especially if the genital mutilation resulted in death. This is due to the fear of maximum punishment, which is considered excessive by some. Resultantly, all parties involved cover up the crime and help the offender escape, so the true scale of the practice is not properly reported or studied.
Follow-up and Evaluation Mechanisms:
The gaps in follow-ups and evaluations reported by the strategy were summarized in the absence of data and information related to FGM. Not to forget the need to complete an up-to-date population survey, which would provide accurate information that would indicate the decline or increase in the phenomenon in the period following the implementation of the strategy.
These gaps have continued to be present even with the strategy ending. Until now, no study has been published on the rates of the spread of FGM in Egypt during the past years. Moreover, there hasn’t even been an indicator of the change in the rates of FGM in the ages between 9-13, which are the ages that help us assess the effectiveness of the strategy and the other actions taken to combat FGM.
To date, the latest source of data in Egypt on FGM is the 2014 census.
In this context, the provision of a periodical and regularly updated database is an essential pillar to help understand the culture of FGM. Similarly, having a database provides us with the ability to compare data and helps in understanding the impact of the geographical and social disparities on the spread of the phenomenon, as well as the relationship of other indicators to its spread, such as poverty, education, and geographical dimensions.
As for the supervision aspect, despite the efforts exerted by the private treatment sector and medical licenses to inspect hospitals and clinics to ban FGM practice, the technical supervision remains insufficient. This is because these clinics are not reported unless the girls suffer from complications or die due to hemorrhaging. Consequently, it’s hard to identify these clinics; therefore, evaluation and follow-up mechanisms should be reviewed through the availability of the following procedures:
- A comprehensive health survey, similar to 2005, 2008, and 2014, should be completed, to monitor indicators of change in FGM rates.
- Calculating the number of reports of FGM that reach the child helpline, and tracking them in order to know how to deal with those reports.
- Reviewing the number of reports on clinics and hospitals performing FGM, as well as the number of clinics that were closed under judicial restraint for FGM.
- Monitorinh the number of cases related to FGM that were or are still under investigation.
- The involvement of civil society and women leaderships in evaluation and follow-up systems.
Providing an Appropriate Cultural and Social Climate:
The second focus of the strategy includes providing a cultural and social climate that supports the rights of children, women, and families. Not to forget providing a more positive public view toward promoting the integral rights for Egyptian girls, while also protecting them from the practice of female genital mutilation and supporting partnerships with religious leaders and institutions, to promote awareness of female genital mutilation, gender discrimination, and domestic violence.
In this regard, several awareness-raising campaigns, entitled “Protect them from FGM,” have been launched over recent years and have been widely publicized on television and radio stations, including Radio Quran, emphasizing that all State institutions are confronted with this custom. According to the National Council for Women, 124 door-to-door campaigns, 69 awareness-raising convoys, and 185 seminars were carried out in 26 provinces in the context of the campaign.
Despite the advantages achieved by the campaigns, they have been characterized by their low prevalence on websites that attract a large number of followers, as well as their lack of continuity and being limited to certain periods. To explain further, these periods were when incidents of FGM would appear on the media, or during the months that include international days dedicated to combatting violence against women in general, which include the international day to combat FGM in specific.
In general, the cultural and social focus lacked a link with that of follow-up and evaluation, in terms of the intensification of information campaigns in the provinces most in charge of that practice and a continuous assessment of the impact of such campaigns on the prevalence of FGM in those regions. In addition to the exclusive role of civil society organizations in implementing this axis. The cultural and social climate can be supported by:
- The involvement of clerics in awareness campaigns, as well as including the topic of FGM in religion in Friday sermons, in order to reach a larger segment of society.
- Including religious advocates of Al-Azhar foundation in door-to-door campaigns, which are done by the National Council for Women.
- Employing drama to combat FGM by presenting its negative impact on girls through realistic stories that touch viewers.
- Focusing awareness campaigns and door-to-door campaigns on the governorates with the highest prevalence rates of FGM.
Finally, the strategy has been successful on the legislative front, which is related to the criminalization of the practice and punishing those responsible or involved. In this regard, the strategy has adhered to studying and revising the law to fill any loopholes that impede the accountability of perpetrators.
However, the absence of information, and surveys on the prevalence of FGM represents an obstacle to an objective and accurate evaluation of the seriousness of the implementation and the achieved societal impact. This assessment would determine whether the strategy will carry on for additional years after the necessary adjustments have been made or another one will be in place.