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Home » FGM/C in Egypt Today: Activities, Challenges and Future Directions

FGM/C in Egypt Today: Activities, Challenges and Future Directions


    in Egypt Today: Activities, Challenges and Future Directions

    A Re-Union Meeting of former FGM Task Force Members, Activists

    and Researchers

    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

    Women’s Rights

    4. Ms. Abeer Khamis, Trainer, ECWR

    5. Dr. Barbara Ibrahim, Regional Director West Asia and North Africa,

    Population Council

    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

    FGM/C information.

    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

    Woman Foundation.

    · 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.

    Riham Shebl).

    · 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

    on FGM/C.

    · 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

    Wel Tawous).

    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

    against FGM/C.


    · Disseminating films to NGOs and organizations working in

    the field

    · 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,

    she adds.

    · 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.

    Side Notes

    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

    for example).

    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

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