Naima has two daughters: Farrah, who is 15, and 13-year-old Khadija. They both live with their mother in a rural village near Cairo. Like their mother, they have both been circumcised.
Naima made the decision to circumcise Farrah independently, without any consultation. One day, she saw her neighbors taking their girls to be cut so she accompanied them, taking her own daughter. She considered it a normal practice. It was as simple as that.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is defined as any procedure that involves injuring or altering the female genitalia for non-medical reasons, and is recognized internationally as a violation of the rights of girls and women.
“I was ignorant,” Naima said. “I knew nothing about the danger of FGM and its negative impact on the health of my daughters. I was sure I [made] the correct decision when I took my eldest daughter to the doctor’s clinic and found many girls waiting their turn.”
Safety in numbers, you might say.
But, things were not quite as straightforward when the time came for Khadija, her second daughter, to be circumcised.
“For my second daughter, I attended several awareness sessions before approaching my husband and telling him not to circumcise her,” she says.
Her husband, believing his daughters should receive equal treatment, refused and made the decision to go ahead.
“He was afraid Farrah might one day ask why we differentiated between them, and blame us,” said Naima. “I went to the doctor unconvinced and upset – I was feeling so sad.”
The next day, Naima attended an awareness session, feeling disappointed that she had harmed her daughter. She had paid 120 Egyptian pounds for each girl to undergo the procedure, plus the price of medication, but the emotional cost proved to be far greater.
“I took care of them: their food, cleanliness, hygiene, and resting, helping them to do nothing for at least for a week… They were sad, upset, and stressed,” Naima said.
In contrast to the plights of Farrah and Khadija, 13-year-old Nawal avoided FGM when her mother made the decision not to circumcise her after learning about its negative impacts. Nawal avoided the mental and physical consequences thanks to awareness sessions held at the local community development association, an implementing partner of Plan International. At the beginning of the two-year FGM project, 100 percent of the girls attending had been circumcised, but sound progress has been made and the figure is now closer to 50 percent.
“I didn’t know anything about FGM and my mother was intending to go through with the process, but had heard about the awareness lectures,” Nawal said. “She learned more about the negative effects of circumcision, how it is harmful for the girl and has no positive effects.”
Nawal’s mother had suffered many problems after being circumcised, including painful bleeding and infection.
“Emotionally she is always stressed,” she said. “She is traumatized.”
How would Nawal steer a mother who was undecided about circumcising her daughter?
“I would advise her not to, and explain the negative consequences and the harm that her daughter will face,” she said. “If she was still not convinced, I would go to the internet and show her any information, data, or evidence to ensure my arguments, or use any other means to convince her not to circumcise her daughter, as she will ruin her future life.”
She’s already made some progress, successfully persuading a neighbor not to go through with circumcising their daughter.
“I was very happy I succeeded,” she said.
It’s not a bad start, but you sense Nawal isn’t finished yet.