Despite the recent amendment to the law against female genital mutilation (FGM), there is no guarantee that people will be discouraged from performing this controversial operation unless they are made aware of the dangers, thus not forcing their female relatives to undergo such operations, according to Dalia Abdel Hamid, the women’s rights officer at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).
Abdel Hamid explained that many families believe that these operations are a traditional norm, which will be beneficial for their female relatives and not cause them any harm.
Before the amendment to the law, that was approved by the cabinet on Sunday, activists and researchers were making suggestions as to how to make the law that criminalises FGM more effective.
Suggestions included widening the circle of criminal responsibility so as to include the medical institutions in which FGM occurs, and holding the managers of such hospitals accountable in the event that they are aware of the crimes happening in their institutions.
Extreme penalties and recognition of FGM as a crime were also called for, as charges are usually changed from “an injury that resulted in death” to “manslaughter”, Abdel Hamid said. The researchers also suggested that families and partners in crime can be acquitted of charges if they report it to officials.
On Sunday, Minister of Health Ahmed Emad announced that the cabinet approved a draft amendment to the law on FGM to extend the punishment of its practitioner to reach seven years in prison.
This amendment replaced a previous one, asserting that individuals who are proven to practice FGM should be imprisoned from three months to three years. It also includes a penalty of 15 years in prison, if the operation has led to permanent disfigurement or death, and a penalty of one to three years for those who force women to undergo FGM.
Maya Morsi, head of the National Council for Women (NCW), praised the draft amendment, describing it as an attempt to “extend the punishment of practitioners of FGM”.
FGM, a common act in Egypt, is often justified by religious rhetoric. However, Dar Al-Iftah, the authority for religious verdicts in Egypt, stated that FGM is a cultural phenomenon and is not religious. It also warned against following any unverified claims about the procedure from non-scholars, and highlighted that FGM has severe physical and psychological side effects which make it undoubtedly prohibited.
According to the United Nations Children Fund’s (UNICEF) annual report on the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation, there has been an overall decline in the prevalence of FGM over the past three decades.
Egypt was among the countries that witnessed a fast decline in the prevalence of FGM rates from 1987 to 2015. It ranked sixth among countries that practice FGM worldwide, with 85% among girls and women aged between 15 to 49 having gone through the procedure.