Fifty-three-year-old Nagah from Tamouh, Egypt, has worked as a midwife since she was 26. She used to carry out female genital mutilation (FGM) on girls aged 13-15.
“I practised FGM for 17 years,” Nagah says. “Being in a rural community, we were just used to it. It’s considered a sign of chastity and beauty.”
The most common procedure she carried out was second-degree FGM, where the clitoris and either the whole labia minora, or a part of it, are cut. After witnessing a procedure that caused a girl to bleed heavily, Nagah began to question the practice.
Awareness raising transforms attitudes
She also began to attend awareness raising sessions on FGM which changed her outlook. “I learned that FGM is so harmful and has no benefits, so I attended more and more sessions and lectures facilitated by the Ministry of Health,” she says. After discovering the various threats posed by FGM to girls, she took the decision not to practice it anymore.
All this happened due to illiteracy, ignorance, poverty and closed minds
“It is considered the first trauma in a girl’s life,” she says. “They feel humiliated.”
The girls Nagah cut are among the 100 million girls who have been subjected to this form of gender-based violence across Africa and the Middle East.
However, unlike Nagah, most of the midwives who have stopped performing FGM have been forced to do so because doctors now carry out the procedure, not because of increased awareness and opposition.
Girls remain at risk
Although it has been illegal in Egypt since 2008, the country has the world’s third highest rate of FGM. The amount of procedures performed by doctors has risen since it was outlawed.
The medicalisation of FGM is a big barrier that is causing the practice to continue. But Nagah warns modern-day practitioners – both midwives and doctors – not to perform such a harmful operation.
“We are exposing our girls to horrible traumas for this practice,” she says. “They get married and have children but the shock is still in their memories. They can never feel stable and they will never forget their pain.”
Join the global movement for girls' rightsNagah now advises families to prevent girls from being circumcised. “It is about obsolete traditions, wrong habits and behaviours,” she says. “All this happened due to illiteracy, ignorance, poverty and closed minds. We have to be open-minded, raise awareness and eradicate FGM.”
Nagah’s story shows how raising awareness of FGM’s dangers can transform behaviours towards it. Plan International is working alongside communities in Egypt, including men, to challenge people’s attitudes to FGM so girls can make informed decisions about their own bodies.