Egypt: Government Revokes Directive that Medicalized Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

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1 Dec 1995

On 17 October 1995, the Egyptian Minister of Health revoked the directive he had issued in October 1994 which medicalized female genital mutilation (FGM). The 1994 directive had permitted hospitals in Egypt to perform the operation for a fee of LE10 (approximately US $3). In revoking the directive, the Minister of Health, Ali Abdel Fattah, made reference to the physical and psychological harm caused by FGM. His new directive instructs general and district hospitals not to perform FGM and states that the role of medical personnel will be limited to providing counseling and guidance to limit the practice.

During the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), held in Cairo in September 1994, the Minister of Health publicly stated that the practice of FGM should be banned and that those who perform it should be punished. However, just one month after the UN conference, the Minister issued the directive medicalizing FGM. This turnaround appeared to have been the result of pressure from sectors of the religious establishment. There is no mandate in the Quran for FGM. The Grand Mufti of Egypt, Sheikh Mohammed Al Tantawi, has issued a fatwa (religious judgment) in which he states that the Quran contains nothing on female circumcision and that as the hadith (the sayings of the Prophet Mohammed) are weak on this subject, one should defer to the opinion of doctors.

Equality Now issued a Women's Action in March 1995 calling on the Minister of Health to revoke the directive which medicalized FGM. Members of Equality Now's Women's Action Network appealed to the Minister from countries around the world, including Austria, Canada, Kenya, Peru, the United States and Zaire. The Minister of Health responded individually to these letters acknowledging the "unacceptable disastrous repercussions on female child health" created by FGM and identifying efforts to combat the practice as one of his first priorities. He outlined his strategy which included raising awareness of the harmful effects of FGM, but also providing "medically controlled aseptic conditions" for those who insisted on the practice. The World Health Organization has expressed unequivocal opposition to the medicalization of FGM in any setting.

Female genital mutilation takes place in many different forms in many different countries: the partial or total removal of the clitoris (clitoridectomy), the removal of the entire clitoris and the cutting of the labia minora (excision), or in its most extreme form the removal of all external genitalia and the stitching together of the two sides of the vulva, leaving only a very small vaginal opening (infibulation). In Egypt an estimated 80% of the female population is subjected to female genital mutilation, usually in the form of clitoridectomy or excision.

An estimated 100 million girls and women around the world have undergone female genital mutilation. At least 2 million girls every year, 6,000 every day, are at risk of suffering FGM. For those who survive the cutting, which is generally done without anaesthetic, lifelong health consequences may include chronic infection, severe pain during urination, menstruation, sexual intercourse, and childbirth, and physiological trauma. An extreme form of many traditional practices used around the world to deny women independence and equality, FGM is defended in the cultures where it is practiced as a rite of passage and a social prerequisite of marriage, and it is used to control women's sexuality by safeguarding virginity and suppressing sexual desire.

Women and men who come from cultures which practice FGM are increasingly giving voice to the devastating harm inflicted by FGM, and movements for its eradication are growing. The Cairo Family Planning Association initiated the campaign in Egypt in 1979, by organizing a groundbreaking seminar entitled "Bodily Mutilation of Young Females" which was held in Cairo. A number of non-governmental organizations have campaigned in the country over the past year for the revocation of the 1994 directive. These organizations continue to work for the eradication of FGM in Egypt.

What You Can Do: 

Write to the Minister of Health welcoming his revocation of the October 1994 decree which had medicalized female genital mutilation. Express concern over the harmful physical and psychological consequences of FGM in Egypt and urge him to honor the pledge he made at the UN ICPD conference to ban female genital mutilation and to take legal action against those who perform it. Thank him for responding to previous letters, and encourage him to continue the dialogue on this important issue and to support non-governmental organizations in Egypt working for the eradication of FGM. Letters should be addressed to:

His Excellency Dr. Ali Abdel Fattah
Minister of Health
Ministry of Health
Magles El Shaab Street
Cairo, Egypt