Social norms on FGM in Egypt still hold sway despite legislation: Study

Mohamed Soliman , Monday 18 Apr 2022

Social norms in Egypt still hold sway over the public when it comes to female genital mutilation (FGM) despite toughening the penalty against the crime in the past decades, concluded a recent study by the Research and Studies Unit of the Cairo-based Egyptian Youth Council (EYC).

File Photo: A woman holds an FGM-awareness poster. (Photo/UNICEF)


The study, which covered the country's legal and policy efforts to combat FGM from 1928 to 2020, concluded that although various laws have put a dent into the practice, they have not deterred people from continuing to perform it on a wide scale.

Citing a UNICEF report, the study noted that the prevalence of FGM among Egyptian women recorded 97 percent in 2000, decreased to 92 percent and 87 percent in 2015 and 2016, respectively, but rose to 91 percent in 2017.

Despite taking the first official step against the practice in the 1950s, "the hoped-for change has yet to be achieved," Mai Aglan, director of the EYC's Research and Studies Unit, noted in the study.

The EYC study pointed out that the country first acted against the practice in 1959 when the Egyptian health ministry issued a decree banning the operation at its units nationwide.

Several laws and decrees were passed after popular and civil society organisations pressures following the death of girls who were subjected to the practice, the study pointed out.

In 2008, Egypt passed legislation deeming the practice a misdemeanour and laying down an imprisonment term for a period of not less than three months and not more than two years and a fine ranging from EGP 1,000 to EGP 5,000 for whoever carries out female circumcision.

The EYC's study said that the move to criminalise FGM altogether came in response to the death of a girl who was subjected to FGM in Upper Egypt's Minya a year prior.

In the ensuing years, the government amended the law several times to toughen penalties against those involved in performing the practice.

The EYC said that after the issue surfaced again in 2016 with news of the death of a girl from the practice in Suez, the government passed yet tougher penalties. 

The 2016 amendments redefined FGM as a felony rather than a misdemeanour and harshened the jail penalty to 5-7 years for whoever carries out the operation for non-medical reasons. 

Additionally, a 15-year imprisonment term was set down in case FGM leads to the death of the victim or a permanent deformity.

The amendments also punish family members or any individual who escorts girls to undergo FGM with one to three years in jail.

The legislator recognised the crime as the partial or complete removal of the external genitalia and causing wounds on those organs without medical necessity.

In 2021, the government toughened the penalty against FGM, with non-medical individuals involved in performing genital mutilation facing prison terms for a period of no less than seven years in prison in case of permanent disability and not less than 10 years if the act leads to death.

The most recent amendments to the law stipulated that medical professionals such as doctors and nurses who are convicted of performing FGM face a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.

The amendment also said that medical professionals who perform female genital mutilation can face between 10 and 15 years in prison. 

If the procedure leads to permanent disability, medical professionals involved shall face a minimum of 10 years in prison, and if the procedure leads to death, the penalty will be toughened to be between 15 to 20 years in prison.

Furthermore, medical professionals convicted of performing FGM shall be stripped of the licence to practise their job for up to five years, and have their clinics closed for the same period.

According to the 2021 amendments, any other individual found promoting, encouraging, or supporting FGM shall be jailed, even if the procedure was performed without causing any harm.

Despite continued legislative efforts, the EYC's research concluded that laws by themselves do not prevent parents from circumcising their daughters despite the toughened penalties.

The penalty introduced against parents who seek to have their daughters mutilated do not prevent the practice as much as it leads to the reluctance of people to report the crime for fear of punishment that may destroy families, the study added.

The EYC noted that societal pressure to prevent the practice dissipates after the passage of laws due to the absence of  awareness programmes and campaigns, especially in rural areas, needed to work alongside legislation.

The study found that dealing with the act as "a mere harmful practice," belittles its real damages and consequences and disregards the fact that those who hold on to the tradition link their attitude to reasons related to chastity and religious beliefs.


The study called for combating societal pressures, traditions, and beliefs attributed reportedly to religion as well as misunderstandings stemming from the lack of education.

It also urged that Egypt reframe the issue of FGM as part of the human rights framework and children's physical safety as well as rebuild the trust between the government and civil society organisations to restore cooperation on this issue.

The study also called for focusing awareness activities against FGM on males and ending the existing perception that links the standards of masculinity with the practice of female circumcision.

It also urged providing comprehensive education at schools to help youth understand the functions of the reproductive system, and correcting misconceptions about sexual desire and morals.

The study stressed the need to design training programmes for clerics to unify their terms in their discussion on the matter.

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