Today The New York Times returns to the subject of female genital mutilation and efforts in Egypt to outlaw the practice and make it culturally unacceptable as well. Both are tough battles to fight. Indented portions are excerpted from the article:

KAFR AL MANSHI ABOU HAMAR, Egypt – The men in this poor farming community were seething. A 13-year-old girl was brought to a doctor’s office to have her clitoris removed, a surgery considered necessary here to preserve chastity and honor.

The girl died, but that was not the source of the outrage. After her death, the government shut down the clinic, and that got everyone stirred up.

“They will not stop us,” shouted Saad Yehia, a tea shop owner along the main street. “We support circumcision!” he shouted over and over.

“Even if the state doesn’t like it, we will circumcise the girls,” shouted Fahmy Ezzeddin Shaweesh, an elder in the village.

It pains me in the year 2007 to even be writing on this subject. Something I first learned about in college and was shocked and appalled by then. As an aside that was around about 1996 when Egypt first ordered the practice stopped.

While I applaud the efforts of all those in Egypt working to bring an end to female genital mutilation-and yes, shockingly PC New York Times you should call it that upon your first reference and in your photo captions and everywhere else even if those who “support” it call it female circumcision. Yes, the times has a solid record of covering this topic and bringing the issue to light, but repetition of this inane description of this barbarism as “female circumcision” in a country that is not struggling against the cultural barriers inherent elsewhere only seeks to inoculate readers from the true brutality of this practice.

Female genital mutilation has absolutely nothing in common with the general term circumcision which Americans and western audiences most notably relate to the practice of removing the foreskin of an infant male, a relatively painless procedure that almost all males are subjected too the world over. Female genital mutilation inappropriately called “female circumcision” is an invasive process with long-term health effects, many of them severe. It is the genital equivalent of a frontal lobe lobotomy. Female genital mutilation has been linked to:

Severe and recurrent pain, backache, post operative shock, hemorrhage, damage to other organs, acute urine retention, tetanus and septacaemia. HIV and Hepatitis B transmission may also occur when simultaneous operations are performed on a group of girls.

Long term effects can include difficulties with sexual intercourse, menstrual problems, kidney infection, chronic infection of the uterus and vagina, infertility, acute problems during labor and child birth (and lets remember that the majority of women subjected to female genital mutilation are having babies in areas where assisted births are rare and hospital births even rarer), incontinence, prolapses, chronic vulval abscesses, and sexual dysfunction.

And these are only the physical, not the psychological effects.

Still as I rail on about this practice here in my comfortable office in the United States of America which affords me all kinds of protections-both cultural and legal-from such actions as these; I can understand logically the battle that advocates in Egypt face and that the way they structure their argument (on this point I would direct folks back to my September 11 post on this subject of packaging an argument) will have an effect on their ability to bring an end to this practice. The way to end female genital mutilation may not be the most in-your-face, over-the-top assault on the practice but a measured and structured campaign to change attitudes and actions. The article explains this delicate situation well:

At first, Ms. Assaad and a group of intellectuals who together created a task force simply lectured their neighbors, essentially calling the practice barbaric.

“At the beginning we preached and said this is wrong,” she recalled. “It didn’t work. They said, ‘It was done to our mothers and grandmothers, and they are fine.'”

She and her colleagues sounded like out-of-touch urban intellectuals, she said. But over time, they enlisted the aid of Islamic scholars and health care workers, hoping to disperse misconceptions – like the idea that cutting off the clitoris prevents homosexuality – and relate to people’s lives.

“Circumcision is a very old custom and has absolutely no benefits,” Vivian Fouad, who helps staff the national hot line, said to a caller wondering what to do with her own daughter. She continued: “If you want to protect your daughter, then you have to raise her well. How you raise your child is the main factor in everything, not mutilating your daughter.”

This question as to how to bring about change among all actors in a community in regards to “tradition” and especially the norms associated with the place and actions of women is not confined only to Egypt and not only to efforts to bring an end to female genital mutilation. Other norms rooted in “tradition” or even just practice, such as women wearing burqas in public in Afghanistan-while no longer legally obligatory-may take longer to be embraced in daily life than in statute. Cultures change slowly:

But as the men in this village demonstrated, widespread social change in Egypt comes slowly, very slowly. This country is conservative, religious and, for many, guided largely by traditions, even when those traditions do not adhere to the tenets of their faith, be it Christianity or Islam.

For centuries Egyptian girls, usually between the ages of 7 and 13, have been taken to have the procedure done, sometimes by a doctor, sometimes by a barber or whoever else in the village would do it. As recently as 2005, a government health survey showed that 96 percent of the thousands of married, divorced or widowed women interviewed said they had undergone the procedure – a figure that astounds even many Egyptians. In the language of the survey, “The practice of female circumcision is virtually universal among women of reproductive age in Egypt.”

Though the practice is common and increasingly contentious throughout sub-Saharan Africa, among Arab states the only other place where this practice is customary is in southern Yemen, experts here said. In Saudi Arabia, where women cannot drive, cannot vote, cannot hold most jobs, the practice is viewed as abhorrent, a reflection of pre-Islamic traditions.

To read the article in its entirety and without my commentary click here.