Tuesday, July 12, 2011
official statistics range from 93-97% prevalence in Egypt.
There are billboards all over Upper Egypt - that is, Southern Egypt, but referred to as 'upper' because the Nile flows from south to north - warning people that circumcising their daughters (FGM) is not recommended. I wanted to get a photo of one of these billboards while I was there, but it took me a while to work up the courage to ask a driver to pull over and by the time I got to guts I didn't see any more billboards. (A friend said she has a photo; maybe she'll give it to me and I'll share it with you.)
Anyway, what I learned last week was that there has been an extensive awareness campaign throughout Egypt, during the last decade and a half or so, to try to decrease this incredibly high percentage. In addition to billboards, there have been television specials, educational activities in schools, and countless programmes by charitable organisations. Health institutions have also gotten involved, encouraging doctors to help decrease the rate of illness and fatality that is a fallout of FGM. If mothers are going to circumcise their daughters, at least they can do it hygienically and safely.
The other thing I learned last week is that it may not have worked. It may have made it worse. Some anonymous focus group discussions I read about indicated that before the awareness campaigns, men didn't really know much about it. Now that fathers have been 'educated', they have started to actively encourage their wives to make sure and circumcise their daughters because it's better for the family and for their reputation.
Furthermore, when all the doctors got involved, mothers who previously were unsure whether the health risk of FGM was worth the perceived advantages, became comforted to know that they could send their daughters to a professional doctor with good equipment in a clean clinic to do the job.
I'm not sure how to deal with these bits of information. If it's this widespread and growing, then that means that most women I know - even well-educated middle/upper-class women - have been circumcised. It also means that it's not a religious thing because Christians are also doing it, thereby shattering the image in the West that it's an Islamic fundamentalist thing (some say the rate has decreased dramatically among Christians but I don't know).
On the other hand, some figures suggest that it is going down. In the last generation it may have decreased 10% - at this rate, in 10 generations, women in Egypt will no longer have to deal with this!