International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, February 6 - Photo courtesy of Birmingham Against Female Genital Mutilation's official website.
CAIRO – 6 February 2018: On the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, Egypt Today has decided to commemorate the day by raising awareness on the matter again; reviewing the psychological, marital, and societal effects that female genital mutilation plagues women’s lives with forever.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a widespread practice in Africa, the Middle East, and regions known for heavily adhering to outdated traditions and customs. The practice consists of having the external part of female genitals cut, as a method of curbing sexual desire and ensuring that girls do not engage in intercourse before marriage – or that they do not enjoy it after for that matter. The fact is that regions with the highest numbers of FGM are not only ignorant of the risks of FGM, they are also ignorant of sexual health, psychological health, and so much more.
According to a study conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO), “The Demographic and Health Survey in Egypt in 2000 showed that 97 percent of married women included in the survey had experienced female genital cutting (i.e. FGM). Another study by the Egyptian Ministry of Health and Population in 2003 reported that over 94 percent of married women had been exposed to genital cutting and 69 percent of those women agreed to the procedure being carried out on their daughters. Further, a pilot study by the Health Insurance Organization showed that 41 percent of female students in primary, preparatory and secondary schools had undergone genital cutting.”
Of the risks that FGM breeds according to the WHO are the following: “severe bleeding, problems urinating, later cysts, infections, childbirth complications, and an increased risk of newborn deaths.”
Why FGM is practiced
The WHO conducted a study in Upper Egypt in 2010 and released a Social Science Policy Brief titled, “Men’s and women’s perceptions of the relationship between female genital mutilation and women’s sexuality in three communities in Egypt”, with the results. The study aimed to look into the relationship between men and women in rural areas and how they perceived FGM.
“Support for FGM was deeply rooted in people’s mind, and the major motivation was a belief that FGM was a necessary and effective way of ensuring women’s virtue. It was believed that women’s sexual desire resided in the clitoris, and that by cutting it, women’s sexual desire would decrease. This was believed to be a necessary and useful measure to ensure premarital virginity and marital faithfulness. Exposure to pornographic films, particularly popular among the young men, further strengthened the belief that lack of FGM leads women to promiscuous and excessive sexuality,” the report’s findings concluded.
It is a high price to pay for claimed decency. It is an especially high price when their primary reason for FGM is combatted from another end as well: child marriage. In attempting to curb probabilities of premarital sex, those living in rural areas tend to marry off their girls by 15 sometimes. According to Girls Not Brides, the statistics of girls in 2016 who are married off by 15 is 2 percent, while 17 percent are married off by 18. Such measures carry devastating effects that not even those assaulted perceive – and if they do, there isn’t much they can do about it.
It seems therefore, that the practice is a bit null and void, especially since many who have undergone FGM are married off before they are even educated about sex and their own organs.
Psychological impact of FGM:
At the forefront of FGM’s psychological impact comes a state of psychological morbidity, which happens when an individual becomes aware of their condition and lack of well-being. Of the long term psychological effects that ensure the practice comes distrust and a lack of faith in caregivers and the family members who allowed it.
Women who have undergone FGM are also reported to suffer from depression, chronic anxiety, post-traumatic shock, feelings of incompleteness and an inability to relate to their husbands, according to the WHO’s “A handbook for frontline workers”.
How does FGM affect relationships and marriage?
In terms of sexual relations and how FGM impacts that aspect of marriage, the WHO’s Social Sciences Policy Brief concluded the following as well:
“While FGM was believed to reduce sexual desire, it was not believed to have a negative effect on women’s sexual pleasure, neither on marital happiness. Sexual desire in women was not seen as important, as sexual desire and initiating sexual relations was considered a “man’s job”. Also, both men and women used male sexual satisfaction and pleasure as the major criteria for judging to what extent marital sexual life was satisfactory for both partners.”
However, these communities do not account for the fact that reduced pleasure in women and feeling pain during this kind of intimacy leads to a lack of overall intimacy between husband and wife. Such matters are known to easily lead men to betray their wives, which has become all too common in Egypt; justified by the fact that “such is a man’s nature” or that “men can never be satisfied with one woman.” In reality, FGM plays a huge role in this matter.
Aside from a range of sexual dysfunction that follow FGM, such as women becoming anorgasmic, or experiencing reduced pleasure, FGM can also result in infertility in some cases, according to an article titled “Female genital mutilation: cultural and psychological implications”.
“The psychosocial consequences of infertility in communities where childbirth and child rearing play a major role for women should not be underestimated. In some societies the failure to produce children is blamed on women, and may even be attributed to a curse (Charlotte Metcalf: personal communication). This can result in the woman being rejected by her husband and even by her extended family, resulting in further social isolation,” the article states.
Timeline of Egyptian state’s measures against FGM and violence against Females:
According to the Library of Congress, On August 31, 2016, the Egyptian People’s Assembly approved the amendment of article 242 (bis) of the Penal Code. Article 242 (bis) criminalizes the act of female genital mutilation (FGM).
The law has now been modified to criminalize performing FGM on females, and the penalty for anyone who does varies between 5 to 7 years of imprisonment. The law now also entails that whoever presents the female to have FGM performed on her is to be imprisoned for no less than one year and no more than three years.
At that point in time, the health minister had said that the FGM rate in Egypt was 91 percent, according Ahram Online.
The first law passed to officially criminalize FGM was in 2008. However, the law was said to require imposing stricter penalties, which was indeed implemented in 2016. Even though the laws are in place and are continuously worked on, they are still not enough to tackle the 91-percent rate recorded in 2016. These are the most recent statistics on FGM in Egypt. FGM as a culture and tradition is deeply entrenched in the minds of the uneducated, which represent the majority of the Egyptian population.