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EGYPT: International Herald Tribune Examines Movement Against Female Genital Cutting in Egypt

 Female genital cutting -- sometimes referred to as female circumcision or female genital mutilation -- recently has become a "ferocious focus of debate in Egypt," and, "quite suddenly, forces opposing genital cutting ... are pressing back as never before," the International Herald Tribune reports (Slackman, International Herald Tribune, 9/19).

Female genital cutting is a practice in which there is a partial or full removal of the labia, clitoris or both. About 6,000 girls undergo genital mutilation daily, and the World Health Organization estimates that 100 million to 140 million women worldwide are circumcised. At least 90% of women who undergo genital cutting live in developing countries -- such as Djibouti, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Sudan -- while almost no women undergo the practice in Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, according to UNICEF.

A spokesperson for the Egyptian health ministry has said that under the ban, no member of the medical profession would be allowed to perform the operation in public or private clinics and that any person who breaks the law will be punished. The country's top religious authorities, including the head of the Coptic Church and the Grand Mufti, have expressed support for the ban (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 9/12).

According to the Herald Tribune, advocates of ending the procedure make up an "unlikely collaboration" between government and nongovernmental organizations, religious leaders and the news media. The "movement has broken through one of the main barriers to change: It is no longer considered taboo" to discuss genital cutting in public, the Herald Tribune reports. Opponents of the procedure said that television news shows and newspapers aggressively have reported details about procedures resulting in complications. In addition, a national hotline has been set up to answer public questions about the procedure. The "shift seems to have coincided" with an increased acceptance of talking about sexuality in the media, the Herald Tribune reports.

However, "widespread social change in Egypt comes slowly," and opponents of genital cutting face the challenge of persuading some leaders, such as Osama Mohamed el Moaseri, imam of a mosque in Basyoun, Egypt. "This practice has been passed down generation after generation, so it is natural that every person circumcises his daughter," Moaseri said.

Nasr el Sayyid, assistant to the minister of health, said there already has been a reduction in the number of girls undergoing the operation in urban areas and that an aggressive effort has been launched in more than 100 villages to curb the practice (International Herald Tribune, 9/19).

SOURCE: Kaiser Network

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DATE: 01/10/2007

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