Cutting Female Circumcision From Egyptian Culture

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.

Human Rights Lawyer, Al Danbouki, Photo Credit: Al Danbouki
Human Rights Lawyer, al-Danbouki, Photo Credit: al-Danbouki

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.

Photo Credit: Honor Diaries
Photo Credit: Honor Diaries

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.

Visit the Honor Diaries website to find out how you can be a part of this movement to change the lives of millions of women living under oppressive systems of honor.

Cover Photo Credit: DFATD/MAECD, ACDI/CIDA/David Barbour, Flickr Creative Commons

Speak Out Against Cutting

Written by: Jaha Dukureh


Photo Credit: Jaha Dukureh
Photo Credit: Jaha Dukureh

My name is Jaha Dukureh.

I am 24 years old.

I am a survivor of female genital mutilation (FGM).

I now live in Atlanta, Georgia, but when I was a baby in Gambia, my parents asked a family friend to perform the ritual on me. That day, I was robbed of a part of my femininity.  Since I have started speaking out against FGM, I have met many other girls who have been cut. Not all their stories are like mine.

Many of these girls are American.

They are girls who were born and live in the United States where nearly 200,000 girls are at risk of FGM. Yes, it is illegal, which is why many girls are subject to what is called vacation cutting. They are sent back to their parents’ home countries, where relatives arrange the ritual. Many of these girls are unaware of what is about to happen to them.

They are scarred and traumatised – physically and emotionally.

Girls are told the cutting ritual is a transition into womanhood. However, for the rest of their lives, they will struggle with pain and complications during their periods, sexual intercourse and childbirth. No girl should be subject to this pain.

When I first spoke out publicly against FGM, my family and friends were shocked and ashamed. They pressured me to stop. I almost gave into them. I was only one person – what could I accomplish?  I knew that no girl should be forced to cut her body. Although every day it happens to 6,000 girls.

I had to speak out.

I started a petition calling for an end to FGM in the United States. I have found inspiration in other brave women who have spoken out against this abuse and are taking action to create change. These brave women motivated me to join a rising campaign called Honor Diaries  a film and a movement whose aim is to stop the violence that women experience in the name of honor and tradition.

The courageous women in this film speak on behalf of their own issues and the struggles of so many women and girls. Through their support, I realize I cannot give up this fight.

We live in a free country. Why should these girls have less freedom than we do?

Why don’t more of us stand up and say something? The girls who undergo vacation cutting are not far away. They live in your neighborhood. These girls are your friends, classmates and colleagues.

We cannot remain silent while they suffer. Please watch Honor Diaries – the stories you will hear are sad and horrific. The women are hopeful and courageous. They will inspire you to get involved. Together we can make the world a better place for their daughters, my daughters and for your own.

Sign my petition here: End FGM Now

Cover Photo Credit: Heal the Cuts