National efforts continue to eliminate Female Genital Mutilation and reinforce a zero-tolerance culture

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Story originally published on UN Women Egypt's website.

Between2seas public screening at Damietta Governorate
Photo featuring female participants during the public screenings of “Between Two Seas” movie in Damietta. Photo: UN Women/Younes Hosny

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a human rights violation and constitutes a form of violence against women and girls that is still widespread in several countries. FGM is rooted in gender-based inequalities stemming from social norms which drive both expectations and – at times - behaviours. FGM contributes to perpetuating these same gender-based inequalities which are at its root, including by limiting women’s and girls’ ability to fully exercise their rights, such as their right to the highest attainable standard of mental and physical health and their right to decide over their bodies.

Article 11 of the Egyptian Constitution (2014) commits the State to achieving equality between women and men in all civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights as well as to the protection of women from all forms of violence. Both globally and as reflected in Egypt’s National Strategy for the Empowerment of Egyptian Women, the elimination of female genital mutilation in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development under Sustainable Development Goal 5 and target 5.3. is identified as a key driver in the achievement of gender equality and women’s empowerment in many countries world-wide.

In Egypt, it is estimated that 87.2% (2015) of Egyptian women aged 15-49 have undergone FGM [1]. However, encouraging evidence has confirmed that the rates have been declining, where 7 out of 10 of girls aged 15-19[2] have been subjected to FGM compared to 97% among the same age group in 1985, noting that 72% of these cases were committed by medical professionals.

Across several years, national efforts have been implemented to eliminate such harmful practice and reinforce a zero-tolerance culture to provide a better life for young women and girls. In June of 2008, FGM was criminalized, punishable by a minimum sentence of three months and a maximum of two years, or an alternative minimum penalty of 1,000 and a maximum of 5,000 Egyptian pounds. Throughout the past years, there has been several legislative changes to strengthen the penalties for committing this crime. In 2021, the Egyptian Parliament approved a bill to further increase penalties to a minimum of five and a maximum of 20 years in prison for doctors or nurses who perform FGM.

These legislative changes were proposed and led by the National Committee to Eradicate FGM, which was established in 2019 and is co-chaired by the National Council for Women (NCW) and the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM). Additionally, several advocacy and awareness-raising activities took place under the leadership of the national committee, such as knocking door campaigns, medical convoys, media campaigns which resulted in reaching 22 million beneficiaries from women, men, and children from May 2019 until June 2020[3]. In late 2020, data released by NCW and NCCM indicated that the number of girls and mothers reporting actual or potential incidents of female genital mutilation (FGM) to the child helpline reached 1618 reports[4] between June 2019 and December 2020, compared to 240[5] incidents in 2005 when the child helpline[6] was established.

The desire for social acceptance and avoidance of social stigma remains the single largest factor influencing female genital mutilation. FGM is also practiced in the belief that it will guarantee a suitable marriage for a girl, uphold her chastity and in so doing, the family honour. It is also practiced out of belief that it is required by religion, which has been refuted by both Muslim and Christian religious institutions in Egypt at the highest level.

Among the awareness raising and advocacy efforts implemented to change the social norms and perceptions around FGM is the production of “Between Two Seas” movie, which is the outcome of collaboration between the National Council for Women and UN Women Egypt out of their belief in the role of cinema as a catalyst for social norms change and creating dialogue and engaging the community to change these norms which discriminate against women, and which perpetuate harmful practices. The movie is written by the renowned scriptwriter Mariam Naoum, directed by Anas Tolba, produced by Axeer and was made possible through the generous support of Government of Japan and United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Released in theatres in 2019 and currently available on Netflix, “Between Two Seas” has garnered 22 international awards so far after participating in several international and regional film festivals. The National Council for Women and UN Women Egypt were also keen on organizing public screenings, free of charge, to reach out to women and men across different governorates in efforts to change their perceptions about the different topics tackled including FGM and domestic violence, through facilitating interactive discussions led by NCW Rapporteurs after each screening.

As of late 2021, the movie has been screened several times across various governorates including Cairo, Damietta, Qena, Luxor, Minya, Fayoum, Alexandria, Assuit, and Kafr El-Sheikh. The public screenings were attended by more than 900 participants.

“I have three daughters and I would never consider doing this [FGM] to them,” mentioned a male participant during the screening that took place late 2021 in Greater Cairo. “What I liked most about the movie is that it is touching, and anyone will watch it will think and [reconsider his/her thoughts],” mentioned a woman during the screening that was organized in Damietta in December 2021.

As such, it is crucial that the continued emphasis of the National Committee to Eradicate FGM on the adoption of a comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach that engages all stakeholders be supported through the implementation of the laws and policies via coordinated, accessible and high-quality responses for girls and women who have been subjected to FGM. Additionally, it is essential that the National Committee’s investments which focus on the adoption of comprehensive prevention strategies that address social norms, gender roles and stereotypes, and discrimination against women and girls, are supported.

In partnership with the National Committee to Eradicate FGM and working with other UN agencies including UNFPA and UNICEF, UN Women continues to support women’s access to essential services in Egypt, and in mobilizing community and nationally led social norm change actions which seek to end all forms of gender-based inequalities.

Read in Arabic.

 

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[1] Ministry of Health and Population (2015). Egypt Health Issues Survey

[2] UNICEF (2020) Female Genital Mutilation in Egypt: Recent trends and projections

[3] The National Committee to Eradicate FGM in Egypt (2020). Egypt’s national efforts to eradicate the FGM crime

[4] Data published by the National Committee for Eliminating FGM (Power-point Presentation)

[5] Calculation is based on figures published on the official website of the NCCM: Child Helpline 16000 (nccm-egypt.org)

[6] NCCM Child helpline: 16000 and NCW Women’s Complaints Office helpline: 15115