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09 September 2010


(ANSAmed) -  What has changed in Egypt is that nowadays ''people are more willing to report'' persons who are responsible for female genital mutilation (Fgm). ''This indicates a shift

in the perception of this practice. It means that it is seen as a crime, that Fgm has now moved from social norm to crime'', explained Minister for Family and Populations, Mouchira Khattab, to ANSAmed.

In a country where official data show that in 2005, 95% of women had fallen victim to female genital mutilations (FGM), Mouchira Khattab has always been on the frontline of the battle against this phenomenon. The practice is widespread among Christians and Muslims, mostly in rural areas, in the north, and in the southern governorates of Upper Egypt in particular. ''In more conservative areas'', the Minister continued, ''where the girl is treated as a taboo, this practice will thrive". It is therefore essential to act on the social-cultural environment.

But the fundamentalist Islam is still an enemy in this battle? And what is the role of the Muslim Brotherhood? In 1994 the mouvement opposed the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, regarded as a threat to the traditional family. MPs belonging to the Broherhood also opposed the set of measures for the protection of children which criminalized the FGM in 2008. The government-supported programme against FGM, launched with the international forum of experts in 2003 in Cairo, ''has managed to take the issue away from the arena of religious policies'' the Minister responded. FGM ''is a social issue and must be placed in the right prospect''. One of the results that have been obtained, she underlined, ''was a religious address against FGM by recognised religious authorities, both Muslims and Christians, which has weakened the arguments of religious extremist leaders who turned the question into a political issue since the ICPD in 1994''. Besides, the Minister observed, this religious address has led to the fatwa that was issued in 2007 by Dar el Ifta (the institute for Islamic jurisprudence): a real revolution considering the fact that the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, the highest Sunnite theological authority, issued a fatwa in October 1994, saying that genital mutilation is ''a duty for women'', as circumcision is a duty for men. But now ''our national programme'', the Minister stressed, has turned the opinions against this practice ''without labeling or alienating anyone''. The programme - a model of international collaboration according to the Minister, with the help of the UNDP and Italian Cooperation - has managed to create ''a social movement that has led to a general consensus against FGM'' and to the law 126 that was passed in June 2008 in Parliament. People who are found guilty of carrying out female genital mutilations can be sent to prison for a period ranging between three months and two years, and can be fined up to 950 USD.

But more importantly, the Minister pointed out, the campaign has succeeded in ''making people see FGM as a violation of a wide range of human rights of the female, either as a girl or a grown up woman. It therefore establishes a legal responsability on the duty bearers to ensure the rights of the female''. Besides, the myth around MFG has been debunked by supplying clear information on that fact that the practice ''has no medical benefits''. Anti-FGM teams has been formed in 120 villages in 10 governorates. These teams include several community leaders, religious figures, authoritative women, doctors and experts in law. The Minister continued: ''public statements have been made against FGM in 70 villages, involving thousands of villagers''. The silence in the media on the issue has been broken as well, causing families with girls who were at risk of abandoning FGM. There is also a counselling service for these families, which intervenes after reports of FGM arrive at the toll-free number that has been instituted by the Ministry for children, which can be reached round the clock. But Mouchira Khattab is well aware of the fact that the fight must continue during a change of generation to defeat FGM. ''It is a long and hard battle'', she added, ''and we must work even harder to make sure that every girl is protected from this threat. We highly value our collaboration on the issue with Italian Cooperation, as well as its support to the Egypt's Child Rights Observatory, funded by the Italian-Egypt Debt for Development Swap Programme''. On the other hand, she concludes, Italy also faces the problem of FGM among its community of immigrants. And cooperation between the two countries protects the rights of children in both countries ''without discrimination of gender, religion and ethnic origins''.

The fact that Italy is on the frontline is also proved by the commitment of politicians like the Senate vice-president Emma Bonino, of Ngos Aidos and No Peace Without Justice, and also, in the private sector, by Italcementi, sponsor of the Programme

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