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JUSTICE FOR ALL

FGM ( Female Genital Mutilation)

Female circumcision, which is the excision of the clitoris and part or all of the labia minora, is rarely referred to as anything but as tahara, or "purification".  Though female circumcision is banned in Egypt, it is still widely practiced.  The 1995 Demographic Health Survey estimates that 96 per cent of women in Egypt are circumcised...  We have two reports for you to view.  The first is about the little girl "Mona" who lost her life while being circumcised in a hospital in Egypt and the second is about a documentery film portraying both the for and against vision.  Please read the reports and if you wish, you can post your opinion by clicking on The Forum link above.
Al-Ahram weekly 

FGM claims another victim

By Mariz Tadros

Early on Saturday morning, Mona's mother heard that her sister-in-law was going to have her two girls, aged 11 and 12, circumcised. "When Mona found out, she told me that she, too, wanted to be circumcised like her cousins. She was so happy when I told her that I'd take her to be circumcised along with them." Female circumcision, which is the excision of the clitoris and part or all of the labia minora, is rarely referred to as anything but as tahara, or "purification". Mona Abdel-Hafez died Saturday night in a private hospital in the northern suburb of Madinet El-Salam.

Mona's mother, who lives in a shanty Ain Shams neighbourhood, recounts the incidents that took place that night. At 7.30pm, doctors administered anaesthetics to the first of the three girls, but when they began operating on her, her screams were so loud that they gave her another dose to relieve the pain. She consequently remained unconscious until the next morning.

Doctors were in a rush to finish, so when it was Mona's turn, they gave her two injections right away, one after the other. That was when the complications began. When her uncle insisted on knowing what was wrong, he was told plainly by the doctors -- there were three of them -- that she was dead. "Then they told us to take the body home and not to give them any hassle. When we objected, they tried to convince us that she was unconscious and that we should take her out of the hospital, but my brother informed the police," said Mona's mother, in tears. She is a widow and Mona was her only child. "She was going into fifth grade next year; you should have seen her, she was such a brilliant student," she cried.

The mother was surprised to learn that the operation is banned in both public and private hospitals. "This is the first time we hear this today. We are poor and uneducated women; we have never heard that it is banned. If it does harm to a woman's body, why did the doctors not tell us so?" she lashed out. The doctors charged LE80 for each circumcision.

One woman, a neighbour, interrupted: "We have been circumcising our girls from the dawn of time at the hands of midwives and barbers, and this has never happened except at the hands of doctors." Many of the women agreed.

To them, the idea that some women may not be "purified" seems not only unimaginable, but also absurd. "Girls have to be circumcised, otherwise their sexuality will be uncontrolled," explained one of the mourning women. "If they are not circumcised, no man will agree to marry them." "Even if a man is sure of his bride's chastity, he will be outraged when he finds out that she has not been circumcised. He probably will take her to a doctor himself to make sure she is circumcised," another woman added. "To circumcise a girl is to obliterate the faintest possibility that she will grow up to be unchaste."

A man who arrived to convey condolences said that since the days of Adam and Eve, all men and women have been circumcised, "and now they tell us that the government has prohibited the practice; you must be joking." He added that he was aware that Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) that the practice is not obligatory under Islam. But the man said he was a devoted follower of the late Sheikh Mohamed Metwalli El-Shaarawi, who stressed several times that girls must be circumcised. Among the mourning men, the judgement was unanimous: it was the doctors' fault; they should have been more careful with the anaesthetics.

Officers at Madinet El-Salam police station appear to be in agreement. The police report charged the doctors with negligence of duty while performing the operation. Nobody at the police station was aware that an order by the State Council, the highest administrative court, had banned the performance of the operation in public and private hospitals and clinics. A medical examiner's report stated that Mona died of cardiac arrest that resulted from circulatory failure. The doctors were released on a bail of LE100 each.

Next morning, visitors to the private hospital where Mona died were confused when they found it totally deserted, except for one nursing attendant who said that all the doctors were away and that "there are no patients right now."

The prosecution has ordered an investigation and Minister of Health Ismail Sallam has announced that the necessary legal action will be taken against the doctors. They will also be held accountable before the Doctors' Association which will conduct its own investigation. If found guilty, the doctors may face up to three years in prison.

Dr Seham Abdel-Salam, from the FGM Task Force (a coalition of NGOs and individuals researching and lobbying against the practice) said that she hopes that Mona's death, though a tragedy in itself, will provide additional proof that female genital mutilation (FGM) is not safe. Since 1994, the FGM Task Force has recorded more than 17 cases of FGM-related deaths that were published in newspapers, "in addition to the many, many who have died at the hands of midwives, barbers or doctors that we never heard of."

The majority of circumcision operations are performed by the local midwife or barber, but some mothers believe that if the girl is taken to the doctor, it will be safer and less painful.

In Abdel-Salam's opinion, this is an illusion, because research has shown that having a doctor perform the operation is by no means safer. If the doctor administers anaesthetics to the patient, it is only to make his job easier and not to relieve the patient's pain. "After all, it is easier for him to cut an unresisting, unconscious girl than one who is crying, screaming and trying to escape. But from our research, it has been shown that once the effects of the anaesthetics wear off, the pain that these girls feel is tremendous," she said.

"It is sad that the level of awareness about the harm caused by this ritual is still so low, but it is so difficult to change a tradition that has been upheld for thousands of years," she added.

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