Source : The Guardian
Sunday 30 November 2014
With the first prosecutions under way in the UK and Guinea-Bissau , an increased focus on strengthening the law in Kenya , and a rare conviction in Uganda , positive moves are being made in several countries to implement laws that ban female genital mutilation (FGM).
Against this increasingly optimistic backdrop, the verdict on 20 November in the case of Sohair al-Bata’a , a 13-year-old Egyptian girl who died after undergoing FGM in the Daqahliyah governorate, north-east of Cairo, was particularly disappointing. Both Sohair’s father and the doctor who carried out the mutilation were acquitted, despite the fact that a medical examiner’s report, endorsed by Egypt’s general attorney, confirmed that FGM had taken place. The judge, who was appointed to the case only recently, seemed to discount this unbiased expert evidence and instead acquitted both men. The verdict was not announced in court, but merely recorded in a ledger .
Egypt’s battle to eliminate FGM has been a tumultuous one. In 2006, its two most senior Islamic clerics stated that FGM has no basis in religion. The following year, Egyptian medical professionals were banned from performing FGM after a 12-year-old girl died.
It was this ban, backed by legislation introduced in 2008, that was used to prosecute Sohair’s father and the doctor in a very similar scenario, six years later. Even with good laws in place, justice can continue to be evasive. If laws are not implemented properly and the judicial system is not transparent, the perpetrators in cases such as Sohair’s will continue to go unpunished.
According to Unicef , more than 27.2 million Egyptian women and girls have been affected by FGM. This represents 91% of the female population, the biggest number for any one nationality. Of an estimated 100-140 million women affected by FGM globally, at least one in five is from Egypt. While figures for younger women and adolescent girls seem to be decreasing slowly, this abuse continues to have broad national support from various quarters, including professionals who are supposed to have a duty of care.
Egypt also leads the world in terms of one of the biggest risks to the global anti-FGM movement, that of the increasing trend towards its medicalisation, which fundamentally contradicts WHO guidelines. Incredibly, a 2012 academic document by Egyptian doctor Mohamed Kandil in F1000 Research, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, suggests there is “insufficient evidence to support the claims” that FGM type I is harmful when performed by medical practitioners.
Unicef suggests that 77% of FGM in Egypt is carried out by doctors or other medical professionals – an increase of more than 100% since 1995. Despite leading the way globally in terms of a decrease in prevalence, Kenya is also experiencing an increase in the medicalisation of FGM. Indonesia has yet to fully ban it, although the country recently revoked its 2010 regulation, which allowed medical professionals to legally perform FGM. In the same year, Equality Nowsucceeded in reversing the decision made by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to endorse Type IV FGM, when it suggested changes in the law to allow for a “ritual nick” or pricking of the clitoral skin.
All efforts to permit or make FGM supposedly “safer” conceal the severe violence it represents and hide its lifelong and life-threatening physical, emotional and psychological consequences. Sohair’s death tragically highlights FGM as an extreme violation of the human rights of girls and women with serious health risks, regardless of whether it is performed within or outside of the medical establishment.
Without strong messages from the Egyptian government, such as proper implementation of the law and swift punishment for the perpetrators, FGM may become more acceptable, with women’s rights increasingly subordinated at all levels. Part of the solution is ensuring that healthcare providers are given comprehensive education and training on the health and human rights implications of FGM.
Equality Now is currently working with local lawyers at the Centre for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance to ensure that Sohair gets justice – justice for one girl, but in the hope it sets a precedent to help ensure that countless others are protected. Egypt needs to decide which direction it would now like to take.