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March 12, 2014

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has published in July 2013 its Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change. I will confine myself to Egypt, and in the first part I will discuss the prevalence of and support for the hateful practice in Egypt, and then in the second part I will try to find what one can find in the report in respect of the Coptic Christians. The UNICEF’s report relies on Egypt’s statistics on Egypt’s Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) in the years 1995, 2000, 2003, 2005 and 2008.


FGM1Figure 1: Egypt has one of the highest prevalences of FGM in all 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where FGM is concentrated. It is the country with the most girls and women with FGM (27.2 million at least)


FGM is concentrated in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East, and it is estimated that at least 125 million living girls and women have been cut. Egypt is the worst of all 29 countries: it has at least 27.2 million cut girls and women, which account to 1 in 5 of the global figure! In terms of percentages, Egypt’s FGM prevalence in women of reproductive age (15-49 years) is astonishingly high, 91%, joining the worst club made of six countries, Somalia 98%, Guinea 96%, Djibouti 93%, Eritrea 89%, Mali 89%, Sierra Leone 88%, and Sudan 88%.  In nearly twenty years or so, the prevalence of FGM remained high in the nineties, decreasing only slightly over the years.



Figure 2: Prevalence of FGM in Egypt since 1995 has not dropped to below 91%


The age at which Egyptian girls undergo FGM varies, but the majority of them (51%) get it done between the ages of 10-14 years, and 38% at the age of 5-9 years. 8% of the girls undergo the procedure between birth and 4 years.




Figure 3: In Egypt, the majority of girls are cut between 10 and 14 years, but many get it done before that


Contrary to what many think, prevalence of FGM in urban areas of Egypt, in its cities and towns, is not very highly different from its prevalence in Egypt’s rural areas, its villages and remote areas: 58.3% of cut girls and women reside in rural communities while 41.7% reside in urban areas.[1] It’s less encountered in the wealthiest households[2] but the effect of maternal education is not seen unless the mother has attained secondary or higher education (primary education makes no real difference from no education)[3].



So, these are the facts about the prevalence of FGM in Egypt, and they are not good at all! Egypt is at the top of this shameful league in term of the number of girls and women with mutilated genitalia and has one of the highest percentages. How much is the support for this barbaric procedure within Egyptian society?


Egypt has one of the highest levels of support for the continuation of FGM in both women and men.  54% of girls and women in the age group 15-49 years think FGM should continue and 11% are not sure of what they think[4], while 35% only think it should stop. Egypt joins Gambia, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Mali in this notorious group with over 50% in support of FGM.


Figure 4: The support or no support by girls and women aged 15 to 49 who have heard about FGM for the practice



There are, however, good indicators that the support for the continuation of FGM in Egypt is dwindling despite its remaining still very high. While 64% of women aged 45 to 49 who have heard about FGM support the procedure, only 34% of girls 15 to 19 years who have heard about it support its continuation.[5] The decline in support can also be seen in the subsequent Demographic and Health Surveys: it was 82% in DHS 1995, 75% in DHS 2000, 71% in DHS 2003, 68% in DHS 2005, and 62% in DHS 2008.


The UNICEF’s report tries to put a rosy picture on the Egyptian women’s understanding of FGM, so it says, “In Egypt, many more women now understand the serious, potentially fatal, consequences of FGM/C,”[6] and it produces the following table in support of this statement:


FGM5Figure 5: Percentages of ever-married girls and women aged 15 to 49 years in Egypt who agree with various statements about FGM/C as presented by the UNICEF. This does not strike one with being good progress



A quick read of the progress in the understanding of Egyptian girls and women since 1995 of FGM and its problems fills the reader with pessimism rather than optimism. The observed increase in the percentage who agree with the statement that FGM “can lead to a girl’s death” to 44% in 2008 is mainly due to the highly publicised death in 2007 of a 12 year girl who underwent the procedure.[7]


But what about boys and men aged 15 to 49 years who have heard about FGM? How many think it should stop? You will be perhaps surprised, perhaps not, to know that FGM has higher support within males: 57% think it should continue, 17% undecided, and only 26% believe it should stop! In this, Egypt joins Mali and Mauritania as the worst.


FGM6Figure 6: Boys and men (15-49 or 59 years) who have heard about FGM and support or not support its continuation


There is no doubt that FGM is widely spread in Egypt. It’s entrenched in society and is a social norm[8]. In 2008, Egypt banned the practice by a parliamentary decree; however, in 2011, after the revolution, the Islamists worked hard to undermine the drive to eradicate from Egypt, claiming that FGM is consistent with, and indeed demanded by, Islamic Law (Sharia). It’s tragic that today we hear of another death of a young 13 year Egyptian girl, who has died of the complications of FGM.[9]




[1] Figures produced by studying Figure 4.6 in UNICEF: Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change (2013), p. 38.

[2] Ibid, Figure 4.7, p. 40.

[3] Ibid, Figure 4.8, p. 41.

[4] They have mixed feelings on the subject, do not have a strong opinion or prefer not to express what they think.

[5] UNICEF: Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, Figure 6.3. p. 56.

[6] Ibid, Table 8.1, p. 95.

[8] Two factors define if a the FGM practice is a social norm: a. that families have their daughters cut because others who matter to them have their daughters cut; and b. families believe that others who matter to them think they should have their daughters cut.

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