A ban passed in Egypt on female genital mutilation (FGM) in July of 1996, has yet to take affect in most Egyptian cities. FGM, the partial or complete removal of a woman’s clitoris or external genitals, is widely practiced in many sub-Saharan African nations as well as in Egypt. After complications FGM caused the July death of an eleven-year-old girl, pressure from international groups led to a ban on the operation issued by Health Minister Ismail Sallam. The decree, which pertains solely to public hospitals, remains ineffectual however in hindering the practice because of objections by Islamic fundamentalists, many of whom are health professionals who believe that the circumcision curbs women’s sexual habits and maintains passivity in girls. Girls as young as three continue to undergo the painful procedure which, if it does not result in death, can cause lifelong pain and complications.
A recent national survey conducted this year by Macro International Inc. with help from the US Agency for International Development indicates that over 95 percent of married Egyptian women had been circumcised while nearly 90 percent of Egyptian girls had either already undergone the procedure or were awaiting circumcision. Human rights activists advocate the criminalization of the procedure and are attempting to promote public awareness of both the procedure and the need to make it a criminal offense. Marie Assaad, a chairwoman of a coalition of Egyptian non-governmental organizations has stated however “many doctors still believe it is a very important protection against disease and immorality and that talking against it is a Western Fad.”