Mothers in Upper Egypt say “no to female genital mutilation”

Upepr Egypt
Women in upper Egypt attending an awareness session on FGM

March marks the celebration of Egyptian Mother’s Day and the International Women’s Day.  This year, in the governorate of Aswan, we have also honored 100 mothers and families that have abandoned the practice of FGM and become powerful advocates against this harmful practice that goes against the basic human rights of girls and women.  In so doing, they have also ensured the continuation of their daughters’ education and prevented child marriage.

Highlights

  • The FGM Abandonment and Family Empowerment Programme is showing the results of efforts that started 10 years ago with the FGM Free Village programme sponsored by UNDP.
  • Aswan was the first governorate to announce an anti-FGM stance in 2004 (Benban village).

The FGM Abandonment and Family Empowerment Programme is showing the results of efforts that started 10 years ago with the FGM Free Village programme sponsored by UNDP.  The first milestone was achieved in 2008 when the Parliament passed a law criminalizing FGM.  Aswan was the first governorate to announce an anti-FGM stance in 2004 (Benban village).  In March 2014, the general prosecutor has referred the case of Soheir El-Batea, a 13-year old girl who died as a result of a FGM operation, to criminal prosecution.

Among the mothers honored in Aswan, the story of 43 year old Samia Helmy from Nagei el Arab Village is the most touching.  It reflects women’s persistence in Upper Egypt despite the suppressive socio-cultural conditions they live in, especially in rural communities.

Samia is a victim of third degree mutilation (so-called Sudanese circumcision, most severe form).  As a result, she has faced painful health problems ever since, significantly affecting her living conditions and marital life.  She recognizes that while she always tried to maintain intimate relations with her husband, these mostly failed as they entailed pain and fear.  Despite this, Samia and her husband have a 15 year old daughter.  When the FGM Abandonment Programme started working in Aswan in 2004 her daughter was just 5 years old.  

Samia became one of the first women who attended the programme’s awareness classes to try understanding her own case and problems.  She made a clear relation between the tragic day of her circumcision and all the symptoms and desperation she sees in her life as a woman and ill-fated marital relations with her husband whom she sees as “a good and kind man”.  She started speaking with other women of her age and with her husband about her daughter and whether they should circumcise her or not. 

She faced fierce opposition from her in-laws requiring her to comply with tradition (“this is our culture and you are the only woman that has a problem with it“).  Her mother in law constantly belittled her by blaming her for being a “cold wife with no feelings or passion”.  Nevertheless, Samia persisted.  She had long talks with her husband about sparing their daughter all the pain she went through.  He was eventually convinced to join the awareness sessions held for men.  As they became better informed, they decided to stand up as a family and face those community members staunchly defending tradition. 

Mihrael Malak is now 15 years and her parents are proud to see her growing up healthily, attending school and dreaming about a future of her own.  Samia is a lead advocate in her village using her personal testimony to put an end to this abject practice that prevents women’s’ development as human beings and impacts on the healthy development of communities as a whole.

The FGM Abandonment and Family Empowerment Programme is a joint partnership among the National Population Council, UNDP, UNICEF, UNFPA, UN Women, local authorities, civil society organizations, and is implemented thanks to the generous contributions of the European Union, and the Governments of Sweden, The Netherlands and Germany.