FGM: concerns over potential backslide in Egypt

Women left behind after revolution, says former minister Khattab

06 February, 17:50

(ANSAmed) - ROME, FEBRUARY 6 - Former Egyptian minister Moushira Khattab commented on Wednesday on the Supreme Court's decision to reject an appeal by Islamist lawyers to lift the ban on female genital mutilation (FGM). She called it a ''historic'' decision'', given the ''present situation in Egypt''. The ban was initially brought in under Nasser and supported by numerous civil society organisations. A widespread social and cultural campaign focusing on rural areas was later conducted by the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, led by Khattab from 2001. The former minister was in Rome for a conference on FGM which drew to a close yesterday. ''Remarkably, in the span of 5 years we succeeded in changing what was a socially accepted practice into a crime punishable by law'', Moushira Khattab said speaking to ANSAmed. ''A success made possible by our role as a catalyst for a courageous grass roots movement that declared their categorical refusal of this harmful practice''. But presently, she added, ''the great role played by the mass media to raise awareness on the negative impact of the crime has completely disappeared. The role model has changed and the message is now different. Prosecution has faded away. It all points towards regression to early 20th century discourse''. Thanks in part to the position taken by such high-profile religious authorities as Grand Mufti Mohammed al-Tantawi, opposed by the opinion of other accredited Islamic scholars, the campaign sought to raise awareness that genital mutilations were not a divine order but an attack on the physical integrity and rights of the individual, and that they also pose a serious health risk. She noted that while 97% of women in childbearing age had undergone the procedure in 2000, the percentage has since been brought down substantially among girl children, including those in rural areas. The former minister said that the ''ultimate goal'' of the campaign was to make female genital mutilation a crime under article 242 of the Penal Code. The law was introduced in 2008 and calls for fines and prison sentences of up to two years for those who break the law, and the attempt to repeal the law recently rejected by the court dates back to those days.

However, over the past two years there has been ''a setback'' as concerns prior achievements. Women's ''heroic role was pivotal for the success of the January 25th revolution'', she says. ''Today they have been left behind'', and ''have been denied their rights to participate in shaping post revolution Egypt. They were excluded for the group that made the constitutional amendments in March 2011, then marginalized in the Constituent Committee that wrote the 2012 constitution. Their representation in the Post revolution Parliament has been shameful with less than 2%''.''Post-revolution Egypt is becoming increasingly difficult for women’s rights. This is due to the deep-seated patriarchal customs and the association of past authoritarian regimes.

Dormant conservative value systems have surfaced in the midst of political change. Critical among them are the conservative religious discourse that gained ground by stealth''. ''More serious of all is women against women’s rights. Leading women in the post revolution regime both as members of parliament or Islamist party members speak publicly against women’s rights.

They advocate FGM and child marriage. The media is now hogged by leading figures of political Islam who are pushing women back to their medieval role. During the presidential campaigns part of the efforts to buy the support of voters, some candidates sent caravans to circumcise girls free of charge, in violation of the law that criminalized FGM'', said Moushira Khattab, now a Public Policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC, a visiting professor at Perugia University, and a member of the Egyptian Council on Foreign Affairs.

As concerns what effects the new Constitution could have on this issue,''it stipulates for broad principles and still awaits a battalion of laws to fill many constitutional gaps. It all depends on who will formulate and pass these laws''. ''Many articles in the constitution can push women to the back seat (article 2, 4, 219, 10 and 11). Together these articles can establish a theocratic state and set a strategy that subjects legislation to religious leaders and gives the judge to make ruling based on some vague constitutional clauses such as “keeping the morals of the society”, said Moushira Khattab. She went on to speak about the future of the struggle against FGM in the rest of the world and after the historic December 20 UN resolution, noting that ''with increasing immigration, FGM has become a global issue. The adoption of the UNGA resolution marks a milestone in the global fight against violence and discrimination against women and girls in general and FGM in particular. This milestone wouldn't have been possible without the sincere and courageous efforts of Senator Emma Bonino, Vice President of the Italian Senate and founder of ”No Peace without Justice”. Emma has lent this cause her unwavering support to the eradication of FGM. The government of Italy has lent enormous support, setting an example for other European countries. The UNGA resolution is not the end but rather a beginning, and the Rome conference has achieved solid results by drawing up a roadmap for the future''. (ANSAmed).

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