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


Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

Updated 24 August 2019

Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

  • Egyptian social startups are taking alternative approaches to fostering awareness and reducing waste

CAIRO: Global plastics production reached 348 million tons in 2017, rising from 335 million tons in 2016, according to Plastics Europe. 

Critically, most plastic waste is not properly managed: Around 55 percent of it was landfilled or discarded in 2015. These numbers are extremely concerning because plastic products take anything from 450 to 1,000 years to decompose, and the effects on the environment, especially on marine and human life, are catastrophic.

While initiatives around the world are taking action to combat this problem, some Egyptian projects are doing it more creatively.

“We’re the first website in the Middle East and North Africa that trades waste,” said Alaa Afifi, founder and CEO of Bekia. “People can get rid of any waste at their disposal — plastic, paper and cooking oil — and exchange it for over 65 products on our website.”

Products for trading include rice, tea, pasta, cooking oil, subway tickets and school supplies.

Bekia was launched in Cairo in 2017. Initially, the business model did not prove successful.

“We used to rent a car and go to certain locations every 40 days to collect waste from people,” Afifi, 26, explained. “We then created a website and started encouraging people to use it.”

After the website was launched, people could wait at home for someone to collect the waste. “Instead of 40 days, we now could visit people within a week.”

To use Bekia’s services, people need to log onto the website and specify what they want to discard. They are assigned points based on the waste they are offering, and these points can be used in one of three ways: Donated to people in need, saved for later, or exchanged for products. As for the collected waste, it is given to specialized recycling companies for processing.

“We want to have 50,000 customers over the next two years who regularly use our service to get rid of their waste,” Afifi said.  

Trying to spread environmental awareness has not been easy. “We had a lot of trouble with initial investment at first, and we got through with an investment that was far from enough. The second problem we faced was spreading this culture among people — in the first couple of months, we received no orders,” Afifi said.

The team soldiered on and slowly built a client base, currently serving 7,000 customers. In terms of what lies ahead for Bekia, he said: “We’re expanding from 22 to 30 areas in Cairo this year. We’re launching an app very soon and a new website with better features.”

Go Clean, another Egyptian recycling startup dedicated to raising environmental awareness, works under the patronage of the Ministry of Environment. “We started in 2017 by recycling waste from factories, and then by February 2019 we started expanding,” said founder and CEO Mohammed Hamdy, 30.

The Cairo-based company collects recyclables from virtually all places, including households, schools, universities, restaurants, cafes, companies and embassies. The customers separate the items into categories and then fill out a registration form. Alternatively, they can make contact through WhatsApp or Facebook. A driver is then dispatched to collect the waste, carrying a scale to weigh it. 

“The client can be paid in cash for the weight of their recyclables, or they can make a donation to a special needs school in Cairo,” Hamdy explained. There is also the option of trading the waste for dishwashing soap, with more household products to be added in the future.

Trying to cover a country with 100 million people was never going to be easy, and Go Clean faced some logistical problems. It overcame them by hiring more drivers and getting more trucks. There was another challenge along the way: “We had to figure out a way to train the drivers, from showing them how to use GPS and deal with clients,” said Hamdy.

“We want to spread awareness about the environment everywhere. We go to schools, universities, companies and even factories to give sessions about the importance of recycling and how dangerous plastic is. We’re currently covering 20 locations across Cairo and all of Alexandria. We want to cover all of Egypt in the future,” he added.

With a new app on the way, Hamdy said things are looking positive for the social startup, and people are becoming invested in the initiative. “We started out with seven orders per day, and now we get over 100.”