Political will in the face of backward ideas, how the Egyptian state won the battle to eliminate FGM

Dr. Maya Morsi
Thursday 1 Jul 2021

The political will of Egyptian women and girls triumphed again, on April 30, 2021, when President Sisi signed law no 10 of 2021 to introduce amendments to several provisions of the penal code to toughen the penalty for FGM

I am overwhelmed with happiness and pride while writing this article that I have been preparing for a while to be published in conjunction with the Egyptian National Day for Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), which falls on June 14.

After writing all its drafts to be revolved around the pain and suffering of girls and women from that harmful practice, and between appeals and demands for a harsher punishment, It ended up with me writing these lines in joy and celebration of achieving the dream.

Yes, the political will of Egyptian women and girls triumphed again, on April 30, 2021, when President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi signed law no 10 of 2021 to introduce amendments to several provisions of the Penal Code to toughen the penalty for FGM.

The amendment stipulates that whoever performs FGM involving the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or causing injury to female genital organs for non-medical reasons shall be punished by imprisonment for a period of no less than five years. In case the crime led to a permanent handicap, the punishment shall be imprisonment for a period of no less than 7 years with hard labour. If the act led to death, the imprisonment shall be for a period of no less than 10 years.

As per the new amendments also, if the perpetrator of the crime is a doctor or nurse, he or she shall receive the penalty of rigorous imprisonment from 3 to 15 years in jail. If the crime resulted in a permanent disability, the penalty shall be imprisonment for no less than 10 years with hard work. If the act leads to death, the punishment shall be no less than 15 years and will not exceed 20 years.

In addition to this, the court shall rule to dismiss the offender from his position for a period not exceeding 5 years if the crime was committed for a reason associated with his/her job. The establishment where the crime is committed shall be shut down for the same number of years of the penalty handed to the doctor or nurse implicated. That is if the owner knows that the place was used for that purpose.

Imprisonment shall be the penalty inflicted on whoever asks for FGM and has succeeded in persuading someone to circumcise the victim.

In this context, it is important to emphasise that this law is the third generation of previous laws that were issued to criminalise FGM; in June of 2008, an amendment to the penal code was issued to criminalise FGM in legal texts, as article 242 stipulated that: “While showing due regard for Article 61 of the penal code and without prejudice to any harsher penalty prescribed in another law, a prison term of no less than five years and no more than seven years shall be levied against anyone who circumcises a female, namely, by partial or total removal of the external genitalia or causing injury to the genitalia without medical justification. The penalty shall be hard imprisonment if the act results in a permanent disability or if it leads to death.”

Therefore, in 2016, they amended article 242 by aggravating the penalties of the penal code and introducing a new Article under law 78/2016. The amendments of 2016 redefined FGM as a felony rather than a misdemeanor and increased the penalty for performing FGM from five to seven years of imprisonment and up to 15 years’ imprisonment if the act of FGM leads to the death of the victim or a permanent disability. Also, the articles provided punishment between one to three years’ imprisonment of any individual who requests and abets the performance of FGM.

Although the month of June comes yearly to remind us of a very painful memory, the death of the 11-year-old schoolgirl, Budour Shaker, who passed away after being subjected to FGM in a private clinic in the Upper Egyptian city of Minya in June 2017. Her death came hours after her success in the final exams of Grade 6. This tragedy was the reason behind launching the National Day for the Elimination of FGM.

Four years later, and after the death of many girls because of FGM, we celebrate that 2021 is “the year of achieving the dream”, as it included many strong leaps in the issues of criminalising FGM.

The beginning of this year witnessed the cabinet’s approval of the draft law submitted by the National Committee for the Elimination of FGM on disallowing those medical professionals convicted of performing genital mutilation from practicing their job, in addition to applying the rest of the penalties stipulated in the draft law to amend the penal code; legal measures were taken to study this draft in the Ministry of Justice.

Also, last March, the Egyptian House of Representatives approved the anti FGM draft law presented by the government after holding constructive discussions and a very rich dialogue. What made me most happy is knowing about the support of male parliamentarians of this draft, in addition to the female parliamentarians who proved their success in supporting one of the most important issues for Egyptian girls and women.

In this regard, I would also like to refer to the initiative of parliament representatives of the Coordination Committee of Party’s Youth Leaders and Politicians (CPYP) to support, on their social media pages, the efforts of the National Committee for the Elimination of FGM and the amendments of the law that criminalise FGM during the celebration of the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM in February.

All these steps encouraged us to be optimistic that there are parliamentarians who have are enlightened thinkers willing to reject backward ideas and fight them with full force in addition to supporting the government in progressing more and more in women and human rights issues.

And to emphasise the continued rejection of the religions of this harmful practice and inhuman crime (It’s alleged that there’s Islamic religious roots of FGM), the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed El-Tayeb, wrote in a letter he sent to the Public Prosecution in February of last year that “It has become clear to Al-Azhar, through what was decided by the people of jurisprudence and trusted medical professionals, that circumcision causes great damage to a girl’s personality in general and affects her family life after marriage in particular, with a negative impact on society as a whole.”

He continued, “Accordingly, the Islamic Research Academy in Al-Azhar decided, after studying the issue of circumcision from all its correct jurisprudential aspects and with the unanimity of its members in the session held in February 28, 2008, that no unequivocal text is found in the Quran or the Sunna that call for circumcision, and that it only dates back to inherited traditions and customs within the framework of an incorrect understanding of religion; it’s negative impact on physical and mental well-being has been proven.”

“As female circumcision was agreed to be one of the harmful traditions according to legal and medical opinions, and its legitimacy is not assured by valid evidence, thus it is prohibited, and the infliction of punishment on the one who do it is permissible according to Sharia law,” he concluded.

This letter came as a response to an inquiry from the public prosecution about the legitimate opinion on female circumcision, after the death of a girl as a result of her circumcision.

Many fatwas were issued over the course of several years by the Egyptian Dar Al-Iftaa prohibiting female circumcision and ensuring that it is a matter of customs and contrary to Sharia and law.

Last April, the Coptic Orthodox Church issued a document on its stance against female circumcision, signed by Pope Tawadros II, the Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St Mark. The document assured that the church is totally against FGM and considers it a crime and a grave sin. Also, there is no basis for FGM in Christianity, not a single verse calling for it in the holy book. The document assured that FGM represents a danger and a violation of human rights.

All these strong and serious steps confirm that all state institutions, religious institutions, and legislative institutions have united to renounce this harmful practice.

I return once again to the latest and most important step in this issue, which is the ratification by the president of law No. 10 of 2021, which I consider a great victory, and a new dream come true after long years of suffering and pain experienced by millions of women due to FGM, causing constant anxiety and a lack of confidence in themselves and in their closest relatives.

Yes, this important step came to reaffirm the keenness of the political will to protect women and girls from all forms of violence directed against them, confront this criminal act locally and internationally, and to stand as a deterrent for anyone who thinks to commit or participate in this harmful practice against any female.

This step is considered a culmination of the efforts of women who devoted their lives to fighting this crime, such as Aziza Hussein, Mary Assad, and others, may their souls rest in peace.

This step also comes as a culmination of the efforts of the National Committee for the Elimination of FGM, co-chaired by the National Council for Women and the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, which was formed in May of 2019, and is honoured by the membership of representatives of all concerned ministries, competent judicial authorities, Al-Azhar, the three Egyptian churches and community organisations, in addition to development partners.

The National Committee has taken it upon itself since the first day to work with all diligence and sincerity to eliminate this harmful practice, and to fight against reactionary thought and misconceptions about FGM through many activities.

In the framework of its mission, the committee formed a board to study the legislative aspects related to the criminalisation of FGM, which included members from the National Council for Women, the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, the Public Prosecution, the Ministry of Interior, the Doctors’ Syndicate, and the Ministry of Health and Population, and with the participation of forensic medicine. This board suggested tightening the penalty for FGM and expanding the scope of criminalisation of the draft law approved by the government and parliament and ratified by the president.

After two years of the committee’s efforts, it managed to achieve 76 million awareness contacts in many villages throughout the country, in various forms, such as organising medical and educational convoys, launching awareness media campaigns, raising the efficiency of institutional building, in addition to organising door-knocking campaigns under the slogan “Protect her from circumcision.”

This anti FGM law was praised by many international institutions and figures, such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, and a member of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Nicole Ameline.

Moreover, Egypt’s effort in this law was hailed by the European Union, United Nations Women, the United Nations Population Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, UNICEF, and the United States Agency for International Development.

Following these carefully studied steps taken by the Egyptian government, I extend my sincere thanks and appreciation to Egypt’s Prime Minister, Mostafa Madbouly for his approval on the draft law submitted by the committee and to the Egyptian House of Representatives.

I want also to thank the Ministry of Justice for its fruitful cooperation to come up with the amendments to the articles of the FGM law, and the public prosecutor, who presented an exceptional model in the implementation of prompt justice.

Also, my great thanks to the Ministry of Interior for its unremitting efforts in confronting all those who try to break the law in cases of violence against women.

This confirms the consensus of all state institutions on the need to eliminate this harmful practice, in implementation of Article 11 of the Egyptian Constitution, which stipulates that the state will protect women against all forms of violence, and the National Strategy for the Empowerment of Egyptian Women 2030, which comes in line with Egypt’s Vision 2030 to achieve sustainable development goals.

Finally, on behalf of the National Committee for the Elimination of FGM and on behalf of all Egyptian girls and women, I extend my deepest thanks, appreciation, and gratitude to the first supporter of Egyptian women, President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, for the ratification of the law that guarantees a safe life for girls.

Many thanks President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.

#Long live Egypt

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