I would probably put the percentage of circumcised women in Egypt well above 90 percent. However, because my clinic is in Cairo, where I deal mostly with upper-middle class women, much, much fewer of my clients are circumcised. Those who are, they’re usually from the older generation. Outside big cities, the practice is still rampant today.
Unfortunately, the circumcision ban is totally ineffective. Many doctors throughout the country continue to circumcise girls in private clinics, behind closed doors. By law, they’re supposed to report parents who do this to their daughters, but if they believe in it too, why would they report it? They only report it in cases were the procedure goes seriously wrong, and then they have no choice.
I was in a debate with an advocate of female circumcision on Egyptian television a while back. I told him, ‘If you want to cut off a girl’s clitoris, you should do the equivalent, and chop off your penis.’ In reality, removing any part of the genital system doesn’t decrease desire, as those who support the practice so often argue – if you cut off your tongue, you’d still like some soup, you just wouldn’t be able to eat it.
“Even if they heal well, these girls are in for a lifetime of sexual dysfunction”
Female circumcision brings with it serious psychological trauma. It’s very painful, and because the clitoris is close to an artery, it is possible to bleed to death. I’ve also treated women who develop cysts because of it. But even if they heal well, these girls are in for a lifetime of sexual dysfunction.
Of course I’m worried that government representatives are even considering rolling back the ban, but the truth is that ban or no ban, I don’t think the law makes any difference. This fight will take place in villages, not in parliament. What’s really needed is much, much more education. And not just education on the part of activist, urban youth, who are preaching to the choir, or from secular doctors like me, but from religious organisations – moderate Muslims – who can explain to those who believe this is a religious practice that it is in fact just a tradition, a dangerous tradition that must end. Religious groups need to step up their game.