In the name of piety and the misconceptions of religion, many women in the MENA region fall victim to practices that degrade their humanity and profoundly affect their physical and psychological wellbeing - sometimes to a degree beyond repair.
The World Health Organization offices hosted Al Azhar University in a collaborative consultative seminar under the title "Women's health in Islam: addressing harmful traditional practices" on 14 January.
Health experts along with religious figures from the international Islamic centre for population studies and research at Al Azhar University went over the current situation, including the various traditions affecting women’s health and laid the foundation for improvements in the near future.
Dr Alaa Alwan, WHO Regional Director for Eastern Mediterranean, stressed that although many efforts have been made towards specific improvements, such as reproductive health issues, real change will not take place until deeply-rooted practices and misconceptions are addressed, awareness is heightened and gender-related mistreatments are exposed.
According to the statistics releases by the WHO, Egypt - along with Somalia, Djibouti, etc - topped the list of countries in the region still performing female genital mutilation.
Citing the WHO, 91 per cent of girls are subjected to this practice and, most shockingly, 31.9 per cent of the procedures are performed by educated medical professionals who are aware of the consequences.
The outcomes of the two-day seminar will be presented and discussed in another meeting to be held in Dubai by end of January.
These efforts aim to accelerate the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, where ten countries in the region are still at risk of falling behind by the end of the specified period, targeted for the end of 2015.
In addition to female genital mutilation, the panel discussed the problems of early marriage and child bearing, which is still deeply rooted in the community. It was highlighted that for females between the ages of 14 and 19 years of age, the leading cause of mortality is pregnancy and birth complications because they are so young and lack of adequate medical care.
The discussion was deemed utterly important in a society where deeply-rooted social and traditional malpractices are associated with misinterpretations of religion, relying on the role of Al Azhar as a highly-respected religious entity deeply rooted in the Egyptian conscience, and a symbol of moderation.
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