I was recently in the Upper Egyptian governorate of Aswan to meet with local government, partner non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and people working together to fight against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a widely-spread practice in Egypt that predates both Christianity and Islam.
It was a really refreshing experience.
The commitment and dedication I found are not only commendable, but are also very encouraging.
Whole communities are taking a firm stance against a traditional practice that has no religious, medical or moral basis, as declared by both Al-Azhar and the Coptic Church and criminalised by the Egyptian law since 2008.
In the village of Nagaa El Hagar, community leaders, local associations, women, men, and children gathered to watch a series of plays performed by young actors intended to raise awareness and engage people in FGM-related discussions.
What ensued was remarkable: women describing the practice's dramatic impact on their health, both physical and mental, men talking openly about the damage it has caused in their marital relations, and girls referring to it as the worst day in their lives.
Since 2005, Aswan has taken a firm stance in combating FGM.
To date, 10 villages in the governorate have declared their stance against FGM and are continuing to advocate for the end of this harmful practice.
“Cutting demeans, dehumanises and injures," as stated by a member of a community association. "It is a human rights violation that must be fought until it disappears.”
Nevertheless, changing traditions is an uphill journey that requires a long-term approach.
As many as 92 percent of women married at least once in their lives aged between 15 and 49 have been circumcised, according to Egypt's 2014 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS).
But there is hope, as people’s attitudes and results are beginning to show.
Only 61 percent of girls between 15 and 17 were circumcised in 2014, compared to 74 percent in 2008.
In addition, the survey shows a significant change in mothers’ attitudes since, from a total of 92 percent circumcised mothers, only 35 percent intend to circumcise their daughters.
The criminal conviction of the doctor involved in the death of 13-year-old Soheir El-Batea earlier this year shows that the state is mobilising itself to tackle this problem.
The National Strategy to Combat FGM, which is yet to be launched, shows the Egyptian government’s commitment to fighting FGM as a matter of national priority, recognising the negative effects of this practice on society and people.
What should be the next steps?
Up to 82 percent of circumcisions are performed by medical personnel, in violation of medical ethics and Egyptian law, according to the 2014 survey.
This highlights the important role that the Doctors Syndicate and the Ministry of Health need to play in putting an end to this practice among health professionals, as indicated by the minister himself.
The milestones achieved so far also need to be scaled up to the entire country, as intended in the new National Strategy to Combat FGM.
Sunday, 14 June marks National Anti-FGM Day.
It is in commemoration of 12-year-old Bodour Shaker, from Minya, who died on the same date in 2007 as a victim of this procedure.
I would like to invite all people to honour the memory of Bodour and all the victims of this cruel practice by taking a stance and joining in the effort to eradicate FGM in Egypt.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has been supporting the Egyptian government in combating FGM since 2003.
At present, the programme is supporting the National FGM Abandonment Programme, in partnership with the National Population Council (NPC)/Ministry of State for Population, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), as well as local authorities and civil society organisations.
The programme is also successfully implemented thanks to the generous contributions of the European Union and the Government of Sweden.
Ignacio Artaza is Country Director of the United Nations Development Programme in Egypt.