A leading international rights group on Friday called on Egypt to enact new and harsher legal penalties for the widespread practice of female genital mutilation. The appeal by Human Rights Watch came over a week after the Egyptian parliament voted in favor of toughening penalties for FGM, adopting amendments that will punish perpetrators with 15 years in prison if a child dies and up to seven years for performing the procedure.
Rothna Begum, the Middle East women’s rights researcher at HRW, said that the stricter penalties now “reflect the horrific and potentially deadly consequences of this discriminatory practice.” But she added that a “broader law reform is needed to adequately combat this horrific practice” and warned that tens of thousands of girls remain at risk.
The centuries-old practice, misguidedly believed to control women’s sexuality, was criminalized in Egypt in 2008. However, it remains widespread and an estimated 90 percent of Egyptian women have undergone some form of the forced procedure. Genital mutilation is practiced among both Muslims and Christians, and social pressures are strong — many families fear that an uncircumcised daughter will be unable to marry.
While the amendments passed without much resistance, a lawmaker sparked an outcry after saying in remarks published in media last week that FGM is needed to curb women’s sexuality and to counterbalance allegedly widespread male impotence in Egypt. Ilhami Agena claimed that 64 percent of Egyptian men suffer from impotence, citing increased sales of Viagra.
“If women are not circumcised, they will become sexually strong and there will be a problem,” an imbalance leading to divorce, he added. In response, female activist Janet Abdel-Aleem mocked Agena, suggesting the government should subsidize Viagra instead of circumcising women.