Sohair el-Batea died in June 2013 at the age of 13.
Tomorrow, on November 20, 2014, an Egyptian doctor, Raslan Fadl, will for the first time in history be sentenced because his 13-year old patient died during a female genital mutilation (FGM) procedure; he claims she was allergic to penicillin. [update: Fadl was unexpectedly acquitted.]
This girl died—but she was probably viewed as among the lucky few who have real physicians perform the mutilation in a clinic, as opposed to a midwife or tribal elder who performs the mutilation on a mud floor and with a rusty knife or razor blade.
We know that this horrendous practice is pandemic in the Middle East and Africa. Some claim that FGM is not an Islamic practice per se but is, rather, an African and tribal practice. Thus, FGM is practiced in Muslim Africa (Egypt, Somalia, Sudan) but also in pagan and Christian Africa, as well as nations that are a mix of Christian and Muslim (Nigeria, Sierre Leone, Senegal, Zimbabwe, Kenya). It is also increasingly practiced in Muslim Indonesia.
Recently, a photographer was present at the FGM “ceremonies” of four teenage Kenyan girls of the Potok tribe. They look terrified.
According to UNICEF, 91% of Egyptian women have been genitally mutilated. The practice is supported by both women and men who view women as unclean and unmarriageable if they have not been “cut.” A number of brave and poignant memoirs have been written by women who have undergone this procedure. Dr. Nawal el-Sadawii, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Soraya Mire all come to mind.
But we also know that this practice flies under the radar in the West as well among immigrant communities, mainly from these regions. And we know that Western authorities have failed to stop it.
National Health Service data suggests that up to 170,000 women and girls living in the UK may have undergone female genital mutilation.
Last week, Detective Chief Supt Vanessa Jardine of Manchester stated that the genital mutilation (FGM) of girls in England should be treated as a form of “child abuse and not as a cultural issue.”
In other words, it is a crime and perpetrators should be prosecuted. It is not a tribal, ethnic, racial, or cultural issue to which Western law enforcement should continue to turn a politically correct blind eye. Jardine stated that “this is about protecting a child, not (about) being a racist.”
Recently, the British National Health Service documented “467 new cases of FGM in England.” Half live in London. Estimates suggest that “up to 170,000 women and girls living in the UK may have undergone FGM.”
FGM has been viewed as a violation of girls’ and women’s human rights by international treaties. This has changed nothing. UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon has announced a global campaign to end this atrocity within a decade.
I doubt this will happen. A number of countries have banned FGM, including Egypt, in 1959 and again in 2008. It did not stop this practice.
In 2008, a 12-year-old Egyptian girl died during a clinic surgery. That alone—her death—is what led Egypt to again ban FGM. In other words, the life-long agony and negative medical consequences which FGM inflicts upon girls and women does not matter. The fact that she will never be able to experience any sexual pleasure whatsoever does not matter. In fact, that is the object of this mutilation: to make sure that a woman will be less likely to have pre-marital or extra-marital sex; to ensure that a father need not worry about his daughter’s “promiscuity” and a husband need not worry about whether her pregnancies belong to him, and not to another man.
A woman is meant to suffer—little enough punishment to pay for the crime of being born female.
It does not matter that she will probably be in agony each time she urinates, has sexual intercourse or, given the massive scarring involved, gives birth to a child. It does not matter that she may develop a fistula and become incontinent, that she may also smell “bad” and for this reason, be shunned by her family. It does not seem to matter that she may later die from an infection.
These are crimes against humanity. We may not be able to stop such crimes if they take place in Somalia, Sudan, Kenya, or Egypt. But we can and must stop such crimes if they take place in any Western country—even if the parents send the girl back home to be mutilated.
What might deter this practice? I fear that laws and treaties per se will not be able to do so. Here’s what might. Parents and relatives of a mutilated girl who are complicit in the crime – including knowing about it and failing to tell police – should be deported if they are not citizens and jailed for many, many years if they are. This might give pause to the next set of parents who live in the West but whose hearts remain in the Middle East and Africa.
This is a radical suggestion. I would recommend it for honor killings in the West as well. A family can be “shamed” by having a non-mutilated daughter or they can be “shamed” for having mutilated their daughter and thereby being responsible for the deportation of their entire extended family. The choice is theirs to make.
**Phyllis Chesler, an emerita professor of psychology and women’s studies and the author of fifteen books, is a Shillman-Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Forum.