Female genital mutilation (FGM), sometimes called female circumcision, is still widely practiced in Egypt and other parts of Africa. A study here found that 97 percent of married Egyptian women have undergone the procedure, which can cause lingering health problems, sexual dysfunction and trauma.
Miret el Naggar, an Egyptian correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers, traveled to Upper Egypt (which is actually south, toward the Sudanese border) to write about encouraging signs that some villages were inching toward abandoning the ancient practice. Her story was published in January.
This weekend, however, Miret sent me a news item about yet another victim of FGM, a bright elementary-school student named Budur Shaker. We all know FGM still occurs, of course, but this story hit home for Miret – especially because Budur’s death didn’t occur in some rural midwife’s home, but on a licensed doctor’s operating table in violation of a rarely enforced Egyptian law.
Miret sounded so upset over this senseless death of a child that I asked her to put her thoughts in writing for Middle East Diary. Here’s what she had to say:
Al Masry al Yom independent newspaper reported that a girl in Upper Egypt died a couple of days ago while a doctor was circumcising her.
“Budur Shaker was handing out sweets to her friends a few hours before she died. She had just passed with excellence her final exams of primary school,” the newspaper reported. The paper didn’t give the girl’s age, but said she was in primary school.
Budur’s mother had taken her and some female relatives to the doctor’s clinic in town. One of the women from the village, who witnessed the tragedy, told the newspaper what had happened. After sending the mother out to buy medicine, the doctor asked the child to step in to the operation room. There, the doctor strapped her to an operating table, and gave her an anesthetic dose.
“I saw the girl’s face and her lips turning blue, but the doctor proceeded with the operation,” the old woman said. Doctors later confirmed the child had died from an anesthetic overdose.
Budur’s picture was attached to the article: a child’s face with innocent brown eyes and tidy brown hair looked at the camera with a half smile. My first thought after reading the article was: How tragic and ironic!
Just in January I co-wrote a story about female circumcision in Egypt and how the government is leading a huge campaign to ban this horrible tradition. I traveled with the government researchers to a village in the heart of Upper Egypt, where the residents announced they would stop this practice.
Women and young girls shared with me their stories of how they were circumcised, how they thrashed, screamed and tried to get away from the tight grip of either the midwife or the barber or a relative, but all to no avail. And then came the excruciating pain of a body part being cut off. Not to mention the mental scar of strangers holding down a 7-year-old and spreading her legs to carry out the operation.
For those who aren’t familiar with the practice, female circumcision is a widespread tradition in Africa that involves cutting parts of the female genitalia. It ranges from cutting a tiny part of the clitoris to removing the entire external genitalia and tying up the wound leaving a small hole for blood and urine.
All the accounts were shocking, I can still remember thinking: Oh my God, when I have a paper cut on my finger it hurts for days. How does it feel to have someone cut off a most intimate part of my body?
The saddest part wasn’t the horrible accounts but that it had become part of their life, a custom, like drinking tea after siesta. In the usual Egyptian manner, each woman I spoke to laughed at the memory, at how they had tried to prevent it and failed. How they panicked at the sight of a razor or scissors because at that moment it was a joke no longer, the pain was coming.
Two girls I spoke to especially affected me. They were 12 and 13, still children but on their way to becoming pretty young women. The memory of their circumcisions was still fresh in their minds, since it had just happened a few years back. They were both taking part in the government campaign to raise awareness and eventually ban female genital mutilation.
Reading about Budur these past couple of days reminded me of them, she must have been their age, but she wasn’t lucky enough to survive the operation.
“She was so happy and gave us sweets,” Budur’s sister said, according to the newspaper. “She seemed to be telling us goodbye.”