Written by C. Kott
Suhair al-Bata’a was once a 13 year-old Egyptian girl, described by her family as sweet and spirited. Today she lies in a tomb near the home she grew up in, after she died a year ago, while undergoing surgery for female genital mutilation (FGM).
Despite the fact that FGM was banned in 2008, it remains a common practice in Egypt. UNICEF reports that more than 90% of women in Egypt have undergone the procedure. This issue has the support of prominent political and religious groups.
FGM is perceived as an initiation into womanhood that defines a girl’s femininity and cleanses her of sexual impurity.
Individuals, activists and organizations hope that Suhair’s tragic death will create change for other girls. A landmark trial is underway with the potential to alter the face of Egyptian society.
Initially, Suhair’s family filed charges against the doctor who performed the operation. Later they dropped the charges, claiming Suhair was being treated for genital warts. Vengeance for Suhair might have ended there, had Reda al-Danbouki not intervened.
Al-Danbouki is an Egyptian human rights lawyer, as well as Founder and Executive Director of the Women’s Center for Guidance and Legal Awareness. As an activist for women’s rights and supporter of women’s health, he joined with Equality Now and Egypt’s state-run National Population Council to press charges against Suhair’s father and the doctor responsible for her death.
Though this is the first trial of its kind – FGM has never before been prosecuted in Egypt – al-Danbouki believes this is the beginning of change though he knows the struggle to ratify the practice will continue.
“People need to be educated more about it,” he says, “and the government needs to be pushed politically so they will take real action.” -al-Danbouki
Education campaigns have helped dozens of villages to become “FGM free.”
Al-Danbouki’s Women’s Center is leading the movement in education, fighting to give women the information they need to change their own lives.
A few months ago, following his successful partnership with Equality Now, al-Danbouki reached out to Honor Diaries, a women’s rights movement centered around the film by the same name, that breaks the silence on ‘honor violence’ against women and girls, seeking to put a stop to the human rights abuses they suffer.
Al-Danbouki contacted Honor Diaries through their Arabic Facebook page and in June, he coordinated the first major global screening of Honor Diaries in Arabic. The event, held in the city of Aga, north of Cairo, was a groundbreaking success, educating almost 70 women on the issues proliferated in cultures of honor.
The responses to the film were mixed. Some felt the film encouraged wives to rebel against their husbands, but many women were inspired, and declared a desire for more education so they could help the women in their communities.
The film’s goals go beyond the audiences affirmations. The real victory accomplished during the screening was creating awareness and a platform for conversation around these important, life-changing issues. The film sparked an intense discussion about violence against women, FGM, child marriage, honor crimes, the meaning of the word ‘honor’ in Middle Eastern culture and, most importantly, what can be done about these problems.
Al-Danbouki is birthing advocates and educators, and his success has inspired him to spread this medium of education further. The event was extensively and positively reported by local media, who quote al-Danbouki saying he plans to screen the film across Egypt, starting during Ramadan at the end of June, and put an end to these harmful practices.