By Bhavya Singh
Since the recognition of the presence of Female Genital Cutting (FGC) in parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, efforts have been made to eliminate it in these areas. At the international level, elimination of Female Genital Mutilation is a part of Sustainable Development Goal number five, which seeks to achieve gender equality. Organisations like WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA have worked for greater involvement of the international community to advocate against FGC. These efforts include creation or reformation of laws at the national level to counteract the issue. Legislation at the national level, however can be a complex issue as this practice is very deeply entrenched in the social fabric of the communities in which it occurs. Countries which have criminalised FGC continue to face problems, as punishment alone is not enough of a deterrent in a community where FGC is connected to tradition. In other countries, the implementation of the law has not been successful and has not seen prosecutions occuring. Communities themselves have resisted the effort to ban the practice, often arguing with officials who arrest those involved with carrying FGC out.
According to the UN, FGC has reduced by 24% since 2001, however, at the same time if FGM continues at the same pace it currently occurs, around 68 million girls around the world will be affected by it by 2030. Thus legislative efforts have not been effective deterrents in most countries.
To further understand the legislative framework regarding the issue, this blog series will explore the laws in place in countries affected by FGC in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
In Africa, FGC is criminalised in 18 of the 28 countries it is reportedly practiced in. Criminalisation is only the first step in ending the problem. This fact is illustrated by the situation in Egypt where a law prohibiting FGC has been in place since 2008, but only two cases regarding FGC related deaths have been reported in the years following. According to 28 Too Many the law in Egypt is mentioned in Article 242-bis and Article 242-bis(A) of Law No. 58 of 1937 promulgating the Penal Code. The penalties for violation of the law include:
- Article 242-bis – the performance of FGC is punishable with imprisonment for between five and seven years.
- Article 242-bis – where the performance of FGC results in permanent disability or death, the punishment is increased to ‘aggravated’ imprisonment for between three and fifteen years.
- Article 242-bis(A) – anyone who requests FGC is punishable with imprisonment from one to three years if the mutilation is carried out.
In 2016, an amendment upgraded the performance of FGC from misdemeanour to felony. Where a charge of misdemeanour earlier meant a penalty ranging from three months to five years, it now ranges from five to seven years. The provisions of the previous law had gaping holes, including exempting genital injuries with sufficient medical justification. As a result, FGC moved from hidden corners into medical hands. According to 28 Too Many, 78.4% of incidences of FGC are done my health professionals. The widely covered death of Soheir al-Batea brought this issue to light. A thirteen-year-old, she died at the hands of Dr. Raslan Fadl who performed the procedure. What is surprising here is the fact that despite existence of the law against FGC since 2008, Dr. Fadl is the only health professional to have been implicated for the crime. (See ‘A Small Nick or Cut, they say…’ by Priya Goswami)
This, more than anything, makes it clear that the existence of law is not enough to end FGC The need to conform to societal norms is so strong that people are ready to break the law for its sake. Also, in many communities, honour and pride are strongly associated with notions of women’s purity. Female circumcision, which it is often also referred to, is falsely propagated as a marker of purity, which makes FGC difficult to erase, as people value honour over a women’s safety, comfort or hygiene. Another reason why change is challenging is because the harbingers of change are often considered ‘outsiders’ instead of part of the community. The attempt at reform by these ‘outsiders’ is often viewed as propaganda against the community rather than upliftment of the community and concern for its community’s wellbeing.
What will help, is the inversion of societal notions. If FGC is seen as honourable, people should be made to see the reasons why it is quite the opposite, so it can be dissociated from honour. If FGC is seen to be a requirement for marriage, it needs to be seen as a deterrent instead. If FGC is seen as religiously sanctioned, people need to be made aware how it is not. The long-term solution involves changing the mindset such that FGC is recognised as harmful.. As seen in this blog’s case scenario, penalising an act that much of a society does not think a criminal offense in itself will not lead to the desired solution.
About Bhavya Singh:
Bhavya is 19 year old law student who has a deep interest in human rights and political theory. She is the happiest when extremely busy and wants to use her law degree to help as many people as she can. Always willing to talk about fashion and sitcoms, her other two passions, and she is hungry for new experiences and challenges to be thrown at her.