Parents in Egypt say ‘no’ to female genital mutilation

A woman holds an FGM-awareness poster during a rally. (Photo/UNICEF)
Updated 06 February 2019

Parents in Egypt say ‘no’ to female genital mutilation

  • Many families see FGM as a religious obligation and a way to preserve their daughter’s virginity
  • Parents will receive the badges — which resemble the Arabic word “no”

BEIRUT: Doctors at two Cairo hospitals will pin blue ribbon badges to the clothing of newborn baby girls on Wednesday as they launch a campaign to persuade parents in Egypt to “say no to female genital mutilation (FGM).”

The country has the highest number of women affected by FGM in the world, with nearly nine in 10 having been cut, according to UN data.

Parents will receive the badges — which resemble the Arabic word “no” and look like an upside down version of awareness ribbons for HIV/AIDS and breast cancer — after signing a pledge that they will not have their daughters cut.

Activists hope more hospitals will join the campaign, which launches on International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM.

FGM was banned in Egypt in 2008 and criminalized in 2016, but the practice persists, with most procedures now carried out by health professionals.

Many families see FGM as a religious obligation and a way to preserve their daughter’s virginity.

“It is a wrong and ugly belief. We have to make clear that FGM (does not stop) sexual desire,” said pediatric doctor Amira Edris who works at one of the Cairo hospitals.

“I have a veil on my head and I respect religious rules ... but this is not a religious rule — it is a false belief,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

FGM, which commonly involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia, is practiced in a swathe of African countries and parts of Asia and the Middle East.

It is often done by traditional cutters with unsterilized blades, but there is an increasing trend for FGM to be carried out by health professionals — particularly in Egypt, Guinea, Kenya, Nigeria and Sudan.

Global anti-FGM group 28 Too Many, which is working with the Egyptian hospitals, said the “medicalization of FGM” was hindering efforts to end the practice.

“By having the backing of hospitals in the campaign, we are showing that FGM is wrong, wherever it is carried out,” said 28 Too Many founder Ann-Marie Wilson.

FGM can cause a host of serious health problems including infections and infertility.

There has been mounting concern over the practice in Egypt following the deaths of several girls during botched procedures.

Edris said she had been particularly affected by the death of a 7-year-old girl from FGM.

“We couldn’t save her ... she bled to death. I remember she started to hallucinate ... and she knew she was going to die — this really traumatized me,” she said.

Amel Fahmy, director of women’s advocacy group Tadwein which is backing the campaign, said doctors were ideally placed to spread awareness of FGM.

“We can’t be shy about this. It’s time to talk about this as a harmful practice, and for doctors to tell parents you shouldn’t do this to your daughter,” she said.

What is female genital mutilation and where does it happen?

World leaders have pledged to eradicate female genital mutilation (FGM) by 2030, but campaigners say the ancient ritual remains deeply entrenched in many places.

International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation on Wednesday will highlight efforts to end the widely condemned practice thought to affect at least 200 million girls and women globally. Here are some facts:

• FGM dates back over 2,000 years and is practiced across many cultures and religions.

• It is practiced in at least 30 countries, mostly in Africa but also in pockets of the Middle East and Asia.

• FGM typically involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia. In some cases the vaginal opening is sewn up. Other procedures, more common in parts of Asia, include nicking or pricking the clitoris.

• FGM can cause longlasting mental and physical health problems including chronic infections, menstrual problems, infertility, pregnancy and childbirth complications.

• Somalia has the world’s highest FGM prevalence (98 percent of women have been cut), followed by Guinea, Djibouti, Mali and Sierra Leone.

• Of the 28 countries in Africa where FGM is endemic, 22 have legislation criminalizing FGM, although enforcement is generally weak and prosecutions rare.

• Half of all girls who have undergone FGM or are at risk live in three countries — Egypt, Ethiopia and Nigeria — all of which have laws against FGM.

• Chad, Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Sudan, which are home to 16 million girls, have no law.

• There is an increasing trend for FGM to be carried out by health professionals rather than traditional cutters, particularly in Egypt, Guinea, Kenya, Nigeria and Sudan.

• The ritual, often justified for cultural or religious reasons, is underpinned by the desire to control female sexuality.

• Somalia and Somaliland are drafting laws against FGM.

• Despite not yet having a law, Somalia announced its first FGM prosecution last year after a 10-year-old girl died.

— Compiled by Reuters

Sudan’s economic decline provides fuel for anger against Bashir

Updated 17 min 36 sec ago

Sudan’s economic decline provides fuel for anger against Bashir

  • The recent fuel, cash and bread shortages fueled recent protests in Sudan
  • Protestors blame President Bashir and the ruling National Congress Party for the economic crisis

KHARTOUM: As Samir Gasim reels off the problems facing his Khartoum confectionery and packaging factories, already running well below capacity, the power cuts and generators kick in.
Now he fears the plants may close entirely due to a sudden, eightfold hike in industrial diesel prices imposed by a government desperately short of foreign currency and facing the biggest popular protests since President Omar Al-Bashir came to power 30 years ago.
“We are in favor of eliminating subsidies, but gradually, over five years. Not overnight,” said Gasim, seated in his spartan factory office. “Otherwise it will be a disaster.”
Sudan’s worsening economic crisis has caused fuel, cash and bread shortages that in turn set off a wave of unrest that has surged across the country over the past two months.
The economic slide has also alienated the professional classes, who blame Bashir and the ruling National Congress Party for their troubles, according to businessmen, activists and academics. That has undermined Bashir’s authority and encouraged a protest movement that has persisted despite a security crackdown in which dozens have died.
The Sudanese Professionals’ Association (SPA), which has posted calls for protests on social media and organized strikes, draws in doctors, teachers and lawyers and others complaining of decades of economic mismanagement and isolation.
Founded in 2015, it was planning to submit a request to parliament to raise the base level from which monthly public sector salaries are calculated of 650 Sudanese pounds — now worth just $13.60 at the official exchange rate — on Dec. 25, six days after protests began to escalate.
“We decided to raise the ceiling of our demands from the improvement of wages and the working environment and the right to form professional unions, to demanding the end of the regime,” said Mohamed Yousef, an SPA spokesman and economics professor at Khartoum University.
“There was a big response to us because there is an economic crisis and failure of government, and fuel, bread and liquidity crises.”
Officials have blamed the unrest on unnamed infiltrators and on Sudan’s international isolation, saying they are taking steps to address the economic turmoil. Bankers say US sanctions, though reduced, have choked the economy.
Bashir, subject of an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes in Darfur and hoping for a financial lifeline from the International Monetary Fund, has tried to be measured in his response to burnish his international image, diplomats say. He has tempered warnings to protesters with expressions of sympathy for their plight.
But protests in Khartoum and other cities have continued almost daily, with demonstrators calling for an end to what they see as Bashir’s kleptocratic and incompetent rule. Popular chants include “Down, that’s it!” and “Peaceful, peaceful against the thieves.”
In a country where more than half the population of 42 million are under the age of 19, many of the protesters are young men and women struggling to find jobs that could pay them a living wage. Unemployment rose from 12 percent in 2011 to around 20 percent in recent years, with youth unemployment at more than 27 percent, according to IMF and World Bank estimates.
Businessmen say an unskilled factory worker in Khartoum earns from 1,000 to 1,500 pounds ($18 to $27) a month and a skilled worker may make double that, barely enough for a family to survive.
Some families in the capital have pulled their children out of school over the last year or are serving them fewer and less nutritious meals, making them more susceptible to disease, according to a government presentation to social workers last month in Khartoum.
The economic crisis has hit salaried staff, young people and the unemployed particularly hard. Families have had to sell scarce belongings and crime has risen, the presentation said.
Since the protests began the government has been spending even more money on largely imported, subsidised products including bread and fuel. But it has all but run out of the foreign currency it needs to pay for them, causing widespread shortages.
Sudan already has foreign debts of more than $50 billion, and has been struggling to attract new external financing. By the end of 2018, inflation was running at more than 70 percent. It then dipped to 43 percent, according to official figures, though one US-based economist put it at nearly double that.
Authorities will likely continue to expand the money supply, exacerbating inflation, bankers and economists say.
It was a short-lived attempt to increase the price of bread to ease a shortage that sparked the current unrest. Raising the price of diesel for industry but not other consumers will cause yet more problems, warned Abbas Ali Elsayed, Secretary General of the Sudanese Chambers of Industry.
“This will lead to lots of corruption. People will start selling to factories on the black market. It will affect the competitiveness of factories,” he said.
Higher diesel prices will spread rapidly through the economy as the cost of running farm machinery, transport and industry surges, analysts say. They also risk crushing Sudan’s struggling manufacturers.
Factory owner Gasim had been investing to add chocolate bars and potato chips to the foodstuffs already produced in one of his plants. Diesel shortages, power failures and falling demand from consumers who can’t afford his products mean he has slashed output and shed workers instead.
Late last month, his suppliers told him the government had increased the diesel price for industry to 222 Sudanese pounds per imperial gallon from 28 pounds.
“We will have to close the factory completely if the price doesn’t go back down,” he said.
The 240 people he employs at the factory and a nearby cardboard packaging plant, and more than 100 seasonal staff, could be out of work.
Some older Sudanese remember different times before Bashir came to power in a coup in 1989.
Sudan’s major cities had 65 cinemas, many privately run, before Islamist governments under Bashir with a “hostile” attitude to the arts shut them all down, says film director Suleiman Ahmed Ibrahim.
“This is a part of modern life that young people in Sudan have lost, and could be one of the reasons they complain about the political system,” he said.
At universities, quality has fallen and many academics have gone overseas, while an emphasis on Islamic education has led to “the neglect of mathematics, science and arts,” said Ali Mohamed Othman, a 69-year-old professor at the Sudan University of Science and Technology.
University staff, like other members of the middle class, used to be able to get by on part of their salary. Now it only lasts a few days every month.