The Eternal Sunshine of National Geographic

Nat Geo is not only my favorite magazine, and the place I’d love to work, but also occasionally the source of good news.  In early August, Nat Geo’s website reported that a new study undertaken by the UN showed that the percentage of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Egypt, and other places in Africa, were dropping.

In the early 2000s, both the UNFPA and UNICEF in separate reports both found that FGM in Egypt was over 90 percent. According to these agencies, roughly three million girls face FGM/C every year in Africa and worldwide. Almost 140 million women and girls have already undergone the practice. By 2008, Egypt had passed laws outlawing FGM and began efforts to lower the rate, called The Child’s Law.  Both leaders of the Coptic Church and Al-Azhar, Egypt’s leading Islamic authority, have both spoken out against the practice, which is thought to predate both religions.

Over the last decade, in Egypt, the rate of FGM has declined from 98 percent to 91 percent.  More importantly, the percentage of younger women (30 and under) subjected to FGM has dropped into the 70 percentile.  Sadly, on the other hand, the no-longer in control of the country Muslim Brotherhood have members who publicly support the process, and even have petitioned to repeal the law (which has a slight jail term and fines of no more than $750USD).

I remember when I first learned about the practice.  I was sitting in the living room in Maadi, Cairo looking up information on women in Egypt.  Startled I thought of the eleven women I had interacted with that day, probably two had been subjected to FGM.   You find yourself walking around a city trying to figure out who has and has not been, as if it were the same thing as looking for fake breasts – which by no means it is.  In Egypt, the number of women in Cairo or Alexandria, the two largest cities, who experienced this is significantly smaller than in rural areas, according to both reports.  This allowed me to foster the hope that none of the women I’d met were victims of FGM, as most were either born in Cairo, or from cosmopolitan and educated families.

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