Please, no kudos for female genital circumcision

Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx xxxxxxxx at xxxxxxxxxxx.xxx
Sat Aug 5 20:35:38 MDT 2000



Comrades, some women's issues!!

Whenever I read news about female genital mutilation, I develop a very
strange feeling of revolt inside me. Don't ask me why, because I can not
even imagine the nature of the operation, though I can still visualize
it. I am sure male circumcision is as bad, but it, at least, does not
have the same psychological and sexual repercussions on men as it does
on women. Last month, in Egypt, an 12 year old girl died from bleeding,
while being circumcised under operation in a privately run clinic. Now,
there is a task force within the court system and Egyptian feminists
fighting for the elimination of the practice. While the higher court
system aimed to ban FGM and openly declared it as illegal, the decision
was "reinstated" because there was a resistance from lower courts for
the continuation of FGM as a "religious duty for Muslim girls". OK! Even
if we assume that this horrible practice can be justified in the name of
Islam, as the Higher State Court declared, there is no evidence in Koran
or in the sayings of prophet that authorize FGM. I don't give a damn, of
course, if they authorized it or not, as a non-religous person. I would
still criticize it if they did so, no matter who promotes it, prophet or
god.. However, if Moslem people are misguided on the basis of the text,
the only way we can *gain* them to our struggle for women's rights is by
showing them that FGM does not exist in Koran (since they take the Koran
seriously). This is the only strategic way by which we can *popularize*
our struggle as socialist feminists. We need to take into consideration
what is in the minds of  the common people as well. The other way of
defending the "banality" of Islamic culture is to perpetuate the
western/ imperialistic images of Moslem people as barbaric and Moslem
women as always subordinate to Moslem men. Accordingly, as Franz Fanon
said, we should not let feminism to become a tool in the hands of the
"colonizers to conquer the colonized men", yet  we should *still*
continue criticizing  local patriarchal practices as they dialectically
interact with global capitalism, neo-colonialism and the state.

The second, yet more critical task we need to take into consideration is
the *political economy of FGM. 1) the studies of the Task Force show
that FGM takes place in "unregulated settings", where the state can not
deliver justice to the larger segments of the population. Whereas middle
class women living in the cities are quite informed about the health
consequences of FGM, since they have at least access, money and power to
protect themselves, the women living in poor regions are heavily bearing
the burdens of patriarchal practices. Just as enforced population
control (sterilization) programs promoted by the  US, UN and world
technocratic apparatuses have serious implications on lower class women
living in the third world--given that they are the dangerous symbols of
"over-population" in the eyes of the imperialist west-- the practices
taken against FGN by the same democratic powers are extremely
hypocritical about the issue when their puppet governments justify FGN
from a scientific point of view or allow their doctors to conduct FGN in
the name of correcting "congenital deformity" or hormonal abnormality,
in privately run hospitals. For example,  "At a meeting in June, the
Egyptian Gynecological Society, a branch of the doctors' syndicate,
determined "medical necessity" justifying circumcision to be almost
nonexistent. Congenital deformity, or clitoral hypertrophy--which in
popular misunderstanding develops when circumcision has not been
done--can be corrected without clitoridectomy, the Society said. The
condition is extremely rare, and intervention to correct it should be
based not on the opinion of one doctor, the Society decided, but on a
team of pediatricians and specialists in genetic and hormonal
assessment" 2) within the last 20 years or so, the widespread adoption
of free market model of capitalist development headed by the US
sponsored agreements  (Sadat and Mubarek regimes in Egypt) has
definitely reinforced a conservative Arab social order. The ministerial
ban, which illegalizes FGN *except* under the circumstances of
scientific "medical necessity", deeply illustrates how capitalism
reinforces a set of masculinist traditions easly justifiable by
*science*. Can the west assume no responsibility in this? Ohh, sure!


Here is the full info:

Cairo Times,   Vol 2, Iss 12
6 to 19 AUGUST 1999

Circumcisors circumvent the law

The death of an eleven year old girl illustrates the complicity of the
medical profession in Female Genital Mutilation

Diana Digges

This month female circumcision took the life of at least one girl and
threatened that of another. Eleven-year-old Mona Abdel Hafees died in
hospital on 18 July as a result of complications from an anesthetic
administered to her prior to the operation. And a 12-year-old girl
nearly bled to death the previous day while being circumcised in a
private clinic.

Despite the recent successes of the Task Force on Female Genital
Mutilation (FGM), which aims to eliminate the practice, these cases make
two things clear once again: circumcision persists in unregulated
settings, and the medical profession is complicit in perpetuating it.

The fact that both girls suffered while under the care of licensed
physicians illustrates the weakness in the current legislation
prohibiting female circumcisions. A ministerial ban on the practice was
reinstated last December by Egypt's highest administrative court, the
Higher State Council, after an earlier lower court ruling had thrown the
ban out. The ban states that "it is illegal for anyone to carry out
circumcision operations, even if the girl or her parents agree to
it"--and threatens practitioners with a potential three-year prison
sentence. But it also allows for the operation to be carried out when
"medically necessary," a
condition determined by the attending physician. At the time the ban was
reinstated, activists hailed the ruling as a symbolic victory, but
warned that possibilities for abuse of the "medical necessity" clause
were enormous.

Their fears have been borne out. In the case of the girl who nearly bled
to death, it was the child's uncle who alerted the police. Prosecutors
are investigating the case and the responsibility of the attending
physician. In the case of Mona Abdel Hafees, "medical necessity" appears
never to have been discussed. In an interview with the crime tabloid
Akhbar Al Hawadeth (30 July), Kawthar Abdel Hafees, the mother of Mona,
describes how she approached the director of a private hospital in
Salaam City and asked him to perform the operation on her daughter and
two nieces. The director, a surgeon, agreed to perform the circumcisions
that evening, at LE 80 each.

He and another surgeon began the operation on one of the nieces without
anesthetic, but when she reacted by shrieking with pain, they gave her
an injection. The second niece was anaesthetized before the
circumcision. In Mona's case, the mother was told by the hospital
director that her daughter had not responded to the initial anesthetic.
The surgeon called in a colleague, and Mona was given another dose. An
hour later, the hospital director told Mona's mother that the girl was
fine, but that she was being transferred to a hospital in Manshiyet Al
Bakri in northeastern Cairo. He finally admitted to the girl's death
when her mother threatened to destroy the hospital waiting room. The
doctor added, according to Akhbar Al Hawadeth, that the death was "a
judgment of fate, ordained and predestined."

In small hospitals and clinics, anesthetic is commonly administered not
by specialists, but by general physicians or surgeons, says Siham Abdel
Salam, a physician and member of the FGM Task Force. "But the question
is, why should they give an anesthetic to a healthy person to excise a
healthy part of her body? This is not the practice of medicine,
this is butchery."

In a statement to Akhbar Al Hawadeth, Dr. Abdel Rahim Abdullah, a health
ministry official responsible for monitoring private sector  hospitals
and clinics, stated that the ministry had closed the Salaam City
hospital for violation of the circumcision ban. Public prosecutors
released the two unnamed surgeons on bail of LE200 each, pending an
investigation.

"If it becomes clear through the investigations that there was a crime,
said Rahim Abdullah, "they will be transferred immediately to a
disciplinary committee in the doctors' syndicate."

 At a meeting in June, the Egyptian Gynecological Society, a branch of
the doctors' syndicate, determined "medical necessity" justifying
circumcision to be almost nonexistent. Congenital deformity, or clitoral
hypertrophy--which in popular misunderstanding develops when
circumcision has not been done--can be corrected without clitoridectomy,
the Society said. The condition is extremely rare, and  intervention to
correct it should be based not on the opinion of one doctor, the Society
decided, but on a team of pediatricians and specialists in genetic and
hormonal assessment.

The decision of Mona's mother to bring the girls to a hospital for
circumcision was unusual; more than 70 percent of the operations are
performed at home, often in unsanitary conditions which sometimes lead
to infection and hemorrhaging. The persistence of the practice is often
attributed to a misunderstanding of Islamic doctrine. The December
ruling, which threw out the lower court verdict of June 1997, was
considered a victory over Sheikh Yousef Al Badri, who had raised the
case challenging the ministerial ban. Badri is known for launching
nuisance suits that rely on extremist interpretations of Islamic
doctrine. The Higher Council judge, in his decision overthrowing Badri's
case, stated that there was nothing in the Quran authorizing female
circumcision, nor any clear evidence in the hadith (sayings of the
Prophet) supporting the practice.

That the ministerial ban includes a "medical necessity" clause at all
was considered at the time of its formulation to be a concession to
conservative Islamist forces. But the current head of Al Azhar, Sheikh
Tantawi, has gone on record stating that female circumcision has no
direct or clear relation to Sharia.

While battleground rhetoric has often reflected the fluctuating
influence of conservative Islamists, in fact, the persistence of the
practice has  little to do with popular understanding of religion and a
lot to do with custom. Activists have long argued that it is not
legislation, but massive, ongoing education that will eliminate this
practice that affects more than
90 percent of the country's female population.

                              Vol 2, Iss 12
                          6 to 19 AUGUST 1999























--

Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx
PhD Student
Department of Political Science
SUNY at Albany
Nelson A. Rockefeller College
135 Western Ave.; Milne 102
Albany, NY 12222






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