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Female Genital Mutilation: The Dangers of Social Currency

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This week in Egypt, in a joint statement medics and human rights organisations condemned the actions of the Freedom and Justice Party -the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in raising a convoy providing mobile female genital mutilation services and vaginal inspections. This is in spite of Egypt's commitment as a state to the universal declaration on human rights and child rights convention including the right to bodily integrity.

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IMAGE: UNICEF 2010

To many such as UNICEF who campaign for awareness of this harmful practice in western countries however, Egypt remains a giant on the list of over 30 offending countries that provide this 'service' for over 90% of Egyptian girls and increasingly international clients, from for example Britain, India and Pakistan notwithstanding the 28 African countries that practice FGM.

Though we see a growing alignment in public media between FGM and Muslims in fact this practice pre-dates Islam by a long way, it is believed that Pharonic cultures practiced it among the highest echelons of society (circa 1450bc), thus this heinous act became a vehicle for social mobility aiding the lower classes to marry into the upper classes.

For those wondering why on earth (in spite of the many rebuttals from Islamic clerics that FGM is distinctly un-Islamic) the Muslim Brotherhood have decided to virtually campaign on their support of it? Perhaps a view down the lens of social currency is helpful. Certainly we are not unfamiliar here in the UK with the idea of politicians aligning themselves with moral currencies such as marriage and sexuality in the face of the rapid decline of monetary capital. The Muslim Brotherhood also find that taking the [dubious] moral high-ground of chastity and honour avails them the opportunity to triumphantly reach into the heart of the vast majority of economically deprived Egyptians without offering any actual policies to relieve their hardship.

Once again, women must pay the real cost, upon their bodies and within their painful memories, women's complicity in the practice the greatest gift to the un-Islamic, callous and greedy politik that has engulfed the Muslim world.

FGM is rife among communities where the social capital of the family or tribe is secured through marriage and childbirth. In poverty-stricken communities the frequency of FGM rises because social capital functions in the place of hard currency. Governments (with their 21st century knowledge on medical evidence against FGM) that allow and even promote such egregious acts as bound up with honour and religiosity are inevitably in fact revealing their unwillingness and incapacity to raise their people economically.

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IMAGE Natasha Wyson 2009

In Britain, conservative estimates are that 100,000 women are victims of FGM, against a backdrop of 130 million worldwide, with three million a year being cut in the name of honour. Only recently the Crown Prosecution Services began proceedings against a British man who advised a British family to go abroad for FGM, and many of us know as practitioners and researchers that this is the tip of the iceberg .

As the Western world experiences hard times we may see an increase rather than a reduction of this appalling practice among our people, local socio-political skirmishes translating to heightened controls on marginalised women; their honour being called upon to shore up moral deficits elsewhere. In the coming months it will be up to each and every one of us to police and prevent any decline in the human rights of girls and women through FGM and make sure our voices are heard in our communities and neighbourhoods, standing behind those who wish to be free of this oppressive cultural practice but lack the moral support to overcome this culturally entrenched abuse.