Al-Ahram Weekly, Egypt
Egypt signed an appeal to be presented to the UN to ban female genital mutilation worldwide.
An estimated three million females are cut each year on the African continent (Sub-Saharan Africa, Egypt and Sudan). Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is becoming a global problem. Not only is FGM practised among communities in Africa and the Middle East, but with increased population movements and migration, it is also an issue in immigrant communities throughout the world.
But at the same time, never before has the global community had such a refined understanding of why FGM persists. Factors perpetuating the practice include a woman's status, chastity, health, beauty and family honour. Accordingly, Egypt has joined a campaign for a worldwide ban on FGM, aiming to promote the adoption of a resolution at the United Nations General Assembly banning this widespread and systematic human rights violation before the end of 2010.
On 24 November Egypt joined international human rights activists to appeal to the UN to pass a ban on FGM. Appeal signatories are asking that FGM be condemned and recognised as a violation of the human right to physical integrity. A UN ban would give new strength and impetus to the efforts that are still needed to end the practice worldwide.
Minister of State for Family and Population Mushira Khattab, who signed the appeal on behalf of Egypt, said the move was directed mainly at the 65th session of the General Assembly which will convene later this month. The global launch, according to Khattab, will provide a platform for the exchange of experiences and commitment in fighting FGM. It will also constitute the occasion for a major involvement of the international community to support the partnership strategy plan to end FGM in 2010, as part of the global effort to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
"I'm positive that in 20 years and perhaps earlier not a single newborn girl will be circumcised," Khattab said.
According to Khattab, "our work is to inform and raise awareness among member states, UN agencies and more widely among our fellow human rights activists about FGM and about the pivotal role that the UN General Assembly has in combating this human rights violation by banning it worldwide."
The overall number of countries which signed the appeal is 45 including the US, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Iraq, Uganda, Benin, South Africa, Sudan, Italy, Sierra Leone, Togo and the Netherlands. The number of countries expected to sign is likely to double within the next few days.
The tradition of FGM is deeply entrenched in many national, regional and international societies. A plan to fight FGM implemented by the Ministry of State for Family and Population has gone into action across Egypt's governorates, with special emphasis on southern Egypt.
FGM operations are carried out in 26 African and Arab countries, among them Egypt, Sudan and Yemen, which exported a practice deemed to protect the honour of girls.
Neither Islam nor Christianity allows such a painful practice. Both religions honour females and preserve their human rights. Yet, 80 per cent of the poor and 30 per cent of wealthy Egyptian families subject their girls to FGM. The practice is considered by many people as necessary to tame a female's sexual desires and maintain her honour.
In 2005, Egypt witnessed the declaration of its first document rejecting female genital mutilation prevalent in villages, and which was adopted by the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood's (NCCM) national programme under the auspices of Mrs Suzanne Mubarak.
In 2007 the Health Ministry issued Decree 271 banning all doctors and nurses from carrying out any FGM operations at any ministry hospital or private clinic.
Abdel-Rahman Shahin, official spokesman at the Health Ministry, said the ministerial decree stipulates that whoever commits such a violation will be subject to having his/her private clinic shut down and possibly undergoing a professional investigation at the Egyptian Doctors Syndicate which could result in suspension from practicing medicine for up to five years.
FGM is an extremely traumatic operation which is practised on females between four and 14 years of age for cultural reasons. FGM, which usually results in urine retention, inflammation of the genitals, injury to adjacent tissues, septicemia and infertility, has multiple side-effects. These include shock, haemorrhage and infections which could be potentially fatal.
Khattab hopes the world would join the appeal to take all legal steps against anyone or any country which practises FGM.
"FGM violates human rights due to its serious health risks and life-threatening circumstances," Khattab added.