The tail of a salmon and the words of a girl are the slipperiest things on the planet.
“No-one really knows how to circumcise a woman.”
Who: Magda Adly and Joseph Kamel.
What: Magda works with rehabilitation of victims of torture and violence in the home, and Joseph is a local doctor.
She did not know at that time that as many as nine out of ten women in Egypt went through genital mutilation, and the first time she came into contact with a woman who was suffering the consequences, she was unprepared. She did not understand what she saw. This implies that the doctors who have been carrying out gender mutilation for all those years in Egypt have not been trained to perform the operation. The words FGM (Feminine Genital Mutilation) are not mentioned in any medical education or any medical course literature. Not anywhere in the world.
“They just guess,” says Magda Aly. “No-one knows how to circumcise a woman. They just have a look, think about what other women look like and what needs to be done, and then they start cutting.”
Magda herself works with the El Nadim Center, which was started in 1993 to help people who have suffered torture, first and foremost during police interrogations, and who need psychological rehabilitation and often also proper medical certificates before a trial. But the work soon began to also include women who were victims of violence.
“I realised how big the problem of violence against women is about ten years ago, and that the women are not treated as what they are, victims of violence. It’s not enough to treat the symptoms clinically. They have to work through their experiences and the degradation.”
It’s not enough to treat the symptoms clinically. They have to work through their experiences and the degradation.
It is a slow, long-term process. Nadim Center is investing mainly in educating curators and therapists, and also grass-roots activists who can give the women the support they need locally. Women’s shelters are rare in Egypt, and women cannot count on the authorities for support.
When asked how many women are killed each year by men close to them, Magda Aly just laughs:
“How can we find out? We’d have to ask the police.”
Her younger male colleague, Joseph Kamel, who works as a doctor in the Nile delta, also learned how to circumcise men during his medical training. It was not until a few years ago that he had the opportunity to take a course on female circumcision, learning what the operation involves and what the consequences can be.
“I’d never heard of the problem until then,” he says, “which surprised me; I mean, I am a doctor.”
Now he sees it as his duty to talk more about genital mutilation with his patients, both men and women. He sometimes meets women who come to his clinic and describe symptoms that are related to genital mutilation. He does not know where to send them. He shakes his head sadly.
“We don’t have any answers to that.”
Maternal deaths: 43 deaths per l00,000 births.
Number of children/woman: 2.97 (estimate for 2011)
Abortion legislation: Abortion is not legal. It is only allowed if the mother’s life is at risk. Very restrictive application.
Law against rape within marriage: No
Violence against women in close relationships: Two women are raped every hour. Only 12 per cent of 2,500 incidents of sexual harassment were reported to the police.