Egypt has the third-highest rate of female genital mutilation (FGM) in the world. Around 91% of girls and women have been circumcised there despite it having been illegal for almost a decade.
In the community of Tamouh, a number of individuals who have seen and experienced the consequences of FGM are raising awareness to bring an end to this harmful practice.
Noha is a volunteer who runs awareness sessions on FGM at a Plan International-supported community development centre.
“At the beginning we faced problems with the lectures because the girls were too shy to talk in front of the men,” Noha says. “But after attending several sessions the embarrassment dissolved.”
Nine-year-old Amel, who refused to be circumcised after a friend bled to death after being cut, is another strong advocate against FGM in her community: “It has many harmful effects on society,” she says.
“As a community we need to spread the message and raise awareness worldwide.”
Male volunteers such as Ahmed Fathy are also spreading the message about FGM among their peers.
“I don’t have enough money to organise awareness lectures myself,” he says. “But I bring up FGM in places people meet and start discussions on social media.”
Dr Magdy Helmy Kedees has been speaking out against FGM for more than 20 years and leads community discussions in Tamouh. He says that including boys and men in discussions on the issue is key.
“We missed that we needed to communicate with men to convey our messages,” he says. “Later, we discovered that the best investment is to reach out to the new generations.”
Bayoumy Mostafa, law student and chair of Plan International’s youth advisory group in Tamouh, is optimistic FGM can be stamped out.
“We can succeed in eradicating FGM in 10 years, but we need the community and government agencies to cooperate with each other,” he says.
Mariam*, 13, has already been subjected to FGM. She knows things could have been different had her family known about the negative effects.
“I knew nothing about the harmful impact,” Mariam says. “Only what my mother told me.”
Salwa* has decided that her 3 daughters will not be cut, resisting pressure from her mother-in-law.
“I had a horrible experience when I was circumcised at 9,” she says. “I was injured, bleeding and hurting a lot.”
Salwa has also experienced difficulties in her marriage as a result of being circumcised. “It’s about losing harmony with your husband during sexual intercourse. You’re not at the same stage."
Despite the obstacles, there is genuine hope in Tamouh that FGM will be eradicated. By working with entire communities, including boys and men, we are raising awareness about the effects of FGM to bring an end the practice for good.
* Names changed to protect identities.