Exploring Taboos: Discussing Female Genital Mutilation

Blogger Ahmad Awadalla conducts sexuality education workshops in Egypt, and has been using his blog to share some of his experiences in this field. As one of the participants of the “Exploring Taboos” project, Awadalla has been documenting these experiences in his blog A Rebel with a Cause, where he wrote about discussions about the topic of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) with his students. He cites a recent study conducted on this subject in Egypt, which “takes a deeper look at the terrifying practice and both men and women’s view on it.”

In conducting these types of sexuality education workshops, he takes great care with the participants as, “these young people are going to publicly discuss sexuality-related issues for the first time in their lives (in a health context of course)!”

One technique that Awadalla uses is an information sharing game, where statements are prepared and split into two parts. Each participant is given one part of the statement and asked to find the corresponding half of the statements. Awadalla writes:

One of the statements said: “Female genital cutting (FGM) could lead to bleeding, infertility, and loss of sexual appetite (berood ginsi).” After each of them found his/her matching half of the statement, I asked each of them to read the statement out loud. One of the girls said it out loud, but after she did, she shook her head and said “I’m not convinced, how can this happen?”

I went on explaining how the conditions and the delicacy of this surgery could lead to such fate. I also explained the function of the clitoris and how its cutting leads to loss of sexual desire.

“But isn’t this [loss of sexual desire] better to happen for women?” exclaimed the girl. I was surprised to be honest, even though I should have expected it, I guess it surprises me every time, especially when this kind of comment comes from a girl/woman! I think her only excuse is that she most probably haven’t started a sexual life yet, and she would know it better first hand and she wouldn’t have her children undergo the same awful procedure!

Awadalla devoted two blog posts to the issue of FGM, which include statistics from an Egypt Demographic and Health Survey in 2008 that prevalence among women aged 15 to 49 is 91% He easily finds some of the reasons behind this widespread custom and some of the misconceptions, as revealed by his workshop participants:

Some people think that if the clitoris is not cut, it would grow to become like a penis. Others do it because of customs. Most commonly though, they would say to control sexual desire for girls and to ensure married women’s fidelity, and also to increase the chances for a girl to get married and to be acceptable by her husband!

He also adds this about some of the views from society:

It is clear that the society sees female sexual desire as such an evil thing that has to be eliminated or at least controlled. Some people even likened an uncircumcised woman to a raging bull, not satisfied by one man! Men worry that if they marry an uncircumcised woman, they wouldn’t be able to satisfy her sexual needs.

Finally, he recognizes that there have been some ongoing awareness campaigns [ar] against this practice, which was officially banned by law in 2008. However, the practice is still taking place an is often perpetuated by other females. The previously cited study indicated that other women, and especially grandmothers are the main decision-makers in the practice of FGM. Awadalla concludes:

However, such efforts are restricted and needs a lot of years to pay off. Laws are not enough, especially with lax enforcement strategies here. Laws alone cannot change people’s beliefs and attitudes. It’s not only a matter of raising awareness. It’s a matter of changing patriarchal culture.

Thumbnail photo from Amnesty International's awareness poster against FGM

Noha Atef contributed to this post.

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