in Egypt Today: Activities, Challenges and Future Directions
A Re-Union Meeting of former FGM Task Force Members, Activists
Hosted by Dr. Marie Assaad and Intact Network
Cairo Tuesday May 18, 2004
To reflect on efforts to abandon FGM/C in the Egyptian arena, to
communicate project updates, share information, identify current
challenges, lessons learned, future directions, and to create a
space for all those interested in the issue of FGM/C to communicate
Media, sexuality and the nature of FGM/C messages constituted the
main themes of the meeting. Attendees provided descriptions of current
involvement in FGC abandonment projects and activities, and identified
challenges such as communicating information with the media and
networking. The group decided to meet every other month to update
and share information.
1. Moderator: Dr. Marie Assaad, Egypt FGM Task Force Coordinator
2. Ms. Simona Galbiati, Program Officer, UNDP
3. Ms. Nehad Abul Komsan, Executive Director, Egyptian Center for
4. Ms. Abeer Khamis, Trainer, ECWR
5. Dr. Barbara Ibrahim, Regional Director West Asia and North Africa,
6. Ms. Maggie Morgan, Producer, MediaHouse
7. Ms. Riham Shebl, Independent Activist and Researcher
8. Dr. Mowaheb el-Moelhi, NGO Sector Specialist TAHSEEN
9. Dr. Viviane Fahmy, Training Coordinator, NCCM Free Village Model
10.Dr. Magdy Helmy, Health Program Officer, CARITAS – NCCM FGM Free
Village Model NGO coordinator
11.Ms. Mona Bur, Program Assistant, Population Council/INTACT
· Dr. Marie Assaad commenced by presenting a brief history
on the FGM Task Force of Egypt as a movement, and reviewing the
objectives of the meeting.
· Ms. Bur provided a brief introduction to the development
and activities of the INTACT Network, an international network of
researchers, activists and scholars that aims to promote research
on the effects of FGM/C, based in the Cairo office of the Population
Council. Current membership is composed of 213 individuals, majority
based in Egypt (40 members). Activities are mainly communicated
through Intact’s website that now contains an Arabic version. The
INTACT network welcomes ideas on how to expand its services to communicate
o Issue was raised on how the INTACT Network can communicate information
to target focal points without email access.
1. Ms. Riham Shebl, Independent Researcher and Activist
· Ms Shebl traces her involvement with the issue to 1996,
namely during a course on Gender and Literature (reading literary
texts from a gender sensitive perspective) by Prof. Ferial Ghazoul
at the American University in Cairo, to which the topic of FGM/C
was addressed. Dr. Assaad attended the same lecture as a guest speaker,
as well as Ms. Morgan of MediaHouse.
· Following the session, Ms. Morgan worked with Ms. Shebl
to produce a documentary titled Reham’s Story, which deals with
FGM/C from the personal perspective of an Egyptian woman telling
her own tale.
· Following the release of the documentary, Ms. Shebl became
engaged in face-to-face communication pertaining to FGM/C, discussing
the issue in the metro, in slum areas with other women, and family
members. “The feminist approach is not to prop oneself up as
an enemy against other another woman,” she adds.
· Recently, Ms. Shebl lectured at a private school in Cairo,
hosting a model on the United Nations, to an audience of 15-17 year
old adolescents. Following an invitation to discuss the development
of women’s issues, Ms. Shebl decided to focus on FGM. The lecture
commenced with a reading of an Alifa Rifaat novella, “Placing
it in a larger framework of the different ways that society uses/curbs
female sexuality,” she adds. Ms. Shebl reports both lectures
as very successful. Male students also noted that men should be
targeted in the campaign. A Jordanian student has also followed
up with Ms. Shebl for a term paper on FGM/C as related to honor
Media and Slander
· Five months ago, an article appeared titled Riham’s Story
in the debut issue of Nahdit Masr, in which the author accuses MediaHouse
as a Christian missionary project attempting to advocate against
FGM/C, and slandered the activities of Ms. Shebl and MediaHouse.
(The author continued to slander MediaHouse’s second documentary
on FGM/C; The Season of Planting Girls, directed by Viola Shafik,
summarizing it as a tale of “An educated researcher who went
to the village to convince women to talk about their private parts.”
He continued to describe Ms. Shebl as manipulated and brainwashed
by her education at AUC. Ms. Shebl was further denied access to
the editor-in-chief of Nahdit Masr. MediaHouse consulted a lawyer,
who advised to let it the problem pass unless it arises again.
Recommendation for follow-up:
More research on the role of the media in the campaign against FGM/C.
Dr. Mowaheb El-Moelhi, NGO Sector Specialist, TAHSEEN Project.
· FGM/C is currently part of all activities related to family
planning, and reproductive health programs at Tahseen, such as the
Raidat, and its health curriculum. Tahseen continues to work closely
with NGOs who are fighting against the procedure.
· Dr. El-Molh stressed face-to-face communication as a very
important method of sharing information pertaining to family planning
and RH issues.
· Dr. El-Molh added that there will be indicators on the
progress of the Tahseen program, but not particularly on FGM/C
Ms. Maggie Morgan, Producer, MediaHouse
· MediaHouse is a private company interested in development
issues communicated through film, such as children of special needs,
FGM/C, children’s rights, and violence against women (VAW). Previous
activities included a media watch on how many times woman are beaten
during Ramadan television series, done in collaboration with New
· FGM is high on MediaHouses’ priority list. Two documentaries
focusing on FGM/C have been produced; Viola Shafik’s Season of Planting
Girls (with Dr. Seham Abdel Selam), and Riham’s Story (with Ms.
· MediaHouse have very recently produced 13 short films on
children (nutrition, early marriage), two are focused FGM/C. Each
are twenty-minutes in length. The first documentary is on success
stories in Minya, and pays attention to the first generation of
girls who are not circumcized. The second is in collaboration with
COST in Beni Suef, namely in Ezbet Guirgus, and documents testimonies
· Ms. Morgan also notes that it is very encouraging to see
the Egyptian media involved in the issue of FGM/C, since at the
time of producing the first two documentaries, it was quite difficult
to see social messages against FGM/C on television (and popular
cinema- with the release of films such as Asrar al-Banat and el-Naama
Side Notes and Group Debate
o It is important to integrate all topics related to FGM/C. Face-to-Face
communication and media exposure. Creating the socio-cultural atmosphere
daring to say no while others in the community are still saying
o The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM) has maintained
a role of advocating against FGM/C in the national media campaign
· Disseminating films to NGOs and organizations working in
· Creating a better distribution network (attention is given
not to distribute to Arab satellite stations, in order to avoid
the risk of airing dirty laundry).
Dr. Barbara Ibrahim, Regional Director, Population Council, West
Asia/North Africa, Intact Network Founding Member
· Gender and sexuality is underlying the practice of FGM/C,
stated Dr. Barbara. Once the practice is stigmatized as negative
or bad, we are stigmatizing thousands of women who had no choice.
Researchers should learn much more about their experience, and need
to be sure that in eliminating the practice, one does not harm the
generation of women who have already been subjected to the procedure,
· The INTACT Network is organizing a research seminar in
the Fall of 2004, to bring together all our expertise to tell us
what we have learnt about this issue, and of FGM/C and its effects
on male/female sexuality, and hopes to draw on this group for the
program design, contact information and other recommendations.
· Previous research conducted that touch upon the issue include
Nahla Abdel Tawab study titled Integrating Issues of Sexuality into
Egyptian Family Planning Counseling, and Nadia Wassef/Abdullah Mansour
study titled Investigating Masculinities and Female Genital Mutilation
in Egypt (the meeting would like to look at the suggestions made
in the report).
5. Ms. Abeer Khamis, Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights
· ECWR is currently conducting a program that involved advocacy
against FGM and early marriage in Giza.
· Some challenges include the issue of FGM/C messages; some
people are still not convinced, even though awareness is high. Some
girls wish for early marriage, and have misconceptions.
· The ECWR is trying to develop the concept further, and
thinking deeper of how ideas are communicated, with attention to
the socio-psychological effects of FGM/C.
o Recommendation: Organizing a conference with the donor community
that focuses on the links between FGM/C and the sharia law.
6. Ms. Nehad Abul-Komsan, Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR)
· ECWR was founded in 1996 with a group of 6 young women
in Dar El-Salam. Membership of the ECWR is now composed of more
than 60 individuals. Efforts focused on the legal rights of women,
and involved FGM/C in its agenda.
· Programs targeted legal aid for women, and dealt with the
community as a whole from the perspective of empowerment, not service-delivery.
Programs offered training of field-coordinators and teachers of
adult education, and dealt with the issue of FGM/C through a legal
lens and human rights perspective. Current program is titled East
Africa for Four Literacies; Body, Rights, Economy and Civil Literacies,
in partnership with WOMANKIND, a UK-based NGO, working with five
· ECWR networks with over 600 NGOs, and is also involved
with issues pertaining to the political involvement of women in
Egypt (supporting women to become members of parliament, and working
with political parties).
· ECWR has earned two awards from Development Marketplace
(succeeded as one of the ten-best programs in the world) and Equality
· Future activities include a short film about FGM/C, focusing
on education as an approach to eliminate FGM/C and early marriage.
ECWR is still looking for a partner in the project to move forward.
Ms. Simona Galbiati, Program Officer, UNDP
· Current FGM/C project is conducted in collaboration with
NCCM, in which different donors are brought together, aiming to
liberate villages from FGM/C in six governorates. Project is currently
based in NCCM.
· Project tackles FGM/C from different perspectives: the
legal, medical, social and religious.
· There is a lot of material that can be shared, specifically
with regards to the media campaign used to mobilize communities
to think about the issue. The project has produced three television
spots, two have been aired on local Egyptian channels. The first
tackles FGM/C in the context of three main messages; girls right
of education, no to early marriage and no to FGM/C. The second includes
the same girl child who meets a priest, shiekh and doctor.
· Ms. Galbiati offered copies of the media spots for distribution.
Intact offered to post the media spot on its website.
· Third media spot is also about FGM/C. Titled Think Twice,
it also related to social advertising, aiming to integrate media
campaigns with community initiatives. To use different tools to
promote different social issues. To make people think twice about
issues they would normally not talk about (FGM/C and child labor
8. Dr. Magdy Helmy, Health Program Director, CARITAS Egypt/FGM
Free Village NGO Coordinator
· As one of the founders of the Egypt FGM Task Force, Dr.
Helmy has managed to follow the campaign to abandon the practice
for 15 years. He has worked and participated with different NGOs
and agencies, and is involved with the NCCM FGM Free Village Model.
· Main components of the project include:
o 1. Fieldwork: Efforts in 60 villages in 6 governorates, with 2
NGOs in each governorate. There is a possibility for the number
of villages to reach 100 in the next year. There is certainly progress
following a year.
Challenges include: Within the NGO community itself, to understand
issues of networking, Other problems include NGO capacity, as not
all NGOs in the project have the same capacity.
o 2. Media: Face-to-face communication, general media communication
and other advocacy tools such as producing IEC materials.
o 3. Monitoring and Evaluation
o 4. Networking: Amongst each village itself, and amongst women
who are interested in the issue. Amongst the steering committee
as well, such as between the NCCM and previous members of the task
· The original dream is not impossible to achieve, adds Dr.
Helmy. It is possible to say that following three years, we have
managed in large majority to reduce the rate of FGC in Egyptian
9. Dr. Vivian Fouad, Training Coordinator of FGM Free Village
· Dr. Fouad expressed interest in the nature of FGM/C messages,
and refining the messages of the FGM Free Village Model project.
· First lesson learnt from the Task Force; FGM/C is a socio-cultural
issue. While working with the Ministry of Health to train religious
leaders, Mrs. Fouad explored whether RH is a social issue or a purely
medical issue. By the end of the training, Dr. Fouad considered
FGM/C an essentially social issue.
· NCCM approached Dr. Assaad during the design process of
the project, as the main approach is to tackle FGM/C as a socio-cultural
and not a religious/medical issue. Other issues such as perceptions
between men and women also fed into the project.
· Mrs. Fouad expressed a personal interest in exploring the
issue of message content further, for she notes that from Alexandria
to Aswan, she was met with arguments of the late Shiekh of al-Azhar
Shiekh Gad el-Haqq. Within the socio-cultural issues, trainers had
to justify FGM/C messages she adds. Following the training she discovered
that religious and health messages are very poor.
· The medical-psychological effects of FGM/C are not included
in the messages, following the medicalization of the procedure in
Egypt. The public argues against the medical messages by stating
that the procedure is conducted in a hygienic manner.
· Current health messages focus on whether or not the severed
clitoris is an organ, and whether it has a physiological function.
Messages focus on the function of the organ, and not on the side-effects
of the procedure.
· The Egyptian woman’s idea of sexual pleasure is not a big
issue, she adds. Sexuality is a very complex issue for both the
circumcised and the non-circumcized woman. The issue of sexual pleasure
is a luxury for the both the circumcised and the non-circumcized
woman, as there is a perception that pleasure and orgasm are sin,
for both Christians and Muslims. Pleasure is associated with shame.
Some women may also argue that frigidity is powerful, as a woman
will have no desire, and can keep her control.
· As such, messages of side-effects do not come across as
convincing and positive. Egyptian men and women need to learn more
about their bodies. (An Egyptian sheikh was once under the perception
that if not circumcised, the clitoris would continue to grow).
Group Debate on FGM/C in Relationship to Sexuality, Religion
and Content of FGM/C Messages
· The myth of FGM/C began more than 2000 years ago, and has
remained silent until recently. Issue at hand is how can one discuss
falsehood without frightening women?
· Communities should not be convinced by other practices,
they must be provided with the right information. Information must
be shared, not imposed.
· On medical ethics – The practice is not part of the medical
curriculum, it is prohibited by the global medical community. Mention
must be made of it in resource books.
· Christianity and Islam believe that pre-marital chastity
is highly important for girls. Although FGM/C is not mentioned in
any of the Holy books, the major world religions did not prevent
communities from practicing female circumcision (the reference to
FGM/C in one of the hadiths is very questionable as argued by Fiqhat
al-Sunna, a 20th-century resource book written by Shiekh al-Said
· FGM/C is also a highly political issue. During a recent
training session in Aswan, a trainee described efforts to combat
FGM/C as an American product to reform the Middle East.
· It is interesting to collect all statements and opinions
of the different Islamic schools towards FGM/C. Especially interesting
to study is the Sudanese medical school, as gynecologists in Sudan
are trying to establish a new approach of FGM/C- by shifting from
infibulation/pharonic circumcision to ‘sunna’ circumcision (arguing
for sunna circumcision is considered a method of eliminating infibulation).
It is interesting to study medical messages merged with the Islamic
perspective towards FGM/C.
· “If circumcision ensures chastity, why is the Qanater
prison full of circumcised prostitutes?” – Statement by Md.
Aziz. This is a very powerful message.
· It is reported that some Islamic judges of the Andalus
had the right to sentence a man or a woman who had excised another,
who reports difficulty in sexuality, with the same procedure, as
a form of restitution.
· Studies are currently being collected and compiled on the
issue, these will be published for use by all.
· How does a community receive messages? We have learnt much
more from people than we have impacted them. The religious message
is still passive and negative. The positive must be encouraged.
It must be promoted that Christianity and Islam refuses violence
against women, and that both religion support women’s rights of
Meeting Date: Monday July 19th 2004 from 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Location: To be announced