Medical schools add female genital mutilation to curricula

In a bid to curb the age-old practice, Egyptian medical students are to study female genital mutilation as part of their training in a country where more than 80% of mutilations are believed to be conducted by medical workers.

Egyptian authorities this month unveiled the plan to introduce the topic of female genital mutilation into the curricula of medical schools at state-run and private universities. Although outlawed in Egypt since 2008, female genital mutilation is still rife in the conservative country, mainly in the countryside.

The governmental National Population Council and the Supreme Council of Universities, which is in charge of academic policies in Egypt, have said they will work jointly to highlight the penalties for female genital mutilation with the aim of discouraging medical professionals from performing the procedure.

It is not clear yet when the plan will take effect.

“The move is designed to educate medical students about the consequences of performing female circumcision from medical, religious and legal perspectives by making this topic a part of curricula taught at medical schools and different medical training courses,” Maysa Shawki, Egypt’s deputy health minister, said at a 3 February ceremony launching a national campaign known as “Doctors against Female Circumcision”.

The campaign is run by National Population Council, the Ministry of Health and Population, the United Nations Population Fund and the United Nations Development Programme.

Medicalisation of female circumcision

“The initiative is aimed at qualifying medical professionals who are able to give proper counselling to Egyptian families on the importance of stopping female circumcision. It is also important to enforce the penalty against the medicalisation of female circumcision in order to compel doctors to halt performing this harmful tradition,” Maysa Shawki added.

An estimated 82% of female genital mutilation procedures are conducted by medical doctors and nurses in Egypt, according to government figures.

Last August, the Egyptian parliament passed a law increasing penalties against those involved in the surgery. The bill increases punishment to between five and seven years in jail for those convicted of performing the procedure, against a maximum two-year imprisonment term in the past.

The new law also punishes anyone subjecting a woman to the procedure, by one to three in years in jail, a penalty aimed at discouraging families from forcing their female members to undergo the procedure.

The tougher penalties were approved three months after a 17-year-old Egyptian girl died of complications caused by the surgery performed on her at a private hospital in the coastal city of Suez.

“We need to teach students at faculties of medicine that circumcision is a heinous crime against society and religion as well as a violation of women’s rights,” Hossam Abdel Ghafar, the assistant head of the Supreme Council of Universities, told the same event.

He cited 2014 government statistics that said around 92% of Egypt’s women aged 15 to 49 years have been subjected to female genital mutilation. The rates dropped to 61% among girls under the age of 15, compared to 74% in 2008.

Growing awareness

“This decrease is the result of growing awareness about the harms of female circumcision among educated Egyptian families living in towns,” Abdel Ghaffar added.

In recent years, Egypt has stepped up anti-female genital mutilation efforts in response to several deaths blamed on the practice that involves the removal of part or all of the clitoris.

Moderate clerics in the mostly Muslim country have repeatedly declared the tradition un-Islamic. In 2007, Egypt’s top Islamic official, the grand mufti, issued a fatwa (a religious edict) stating that the practice is forbidden in Islam.

However, advocates of the centuries-old tradition believe that circumcision is necessary for women’s chastity, arguing that it controls their sexual desires.

Indonesia, Egypt and Ethiopia are home to half of the estimated 200 million women around the world who have undergone female genital mutilation, according to a 2016 United Nations report.