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Human Rights And Wrongs

Male and female genital mutilations: rites of passage and purification, or patriarchal oppression.


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Seham Abd El-Salam is a confused Egyptian scholar who believes that “Feminism … is there to build new and fairer social politics for both genders”. Nevertheless, Seham has done some research on the area of male and female genital mutilations and comes to some unusual conclusions. This article is an extract of the report ‘The Importance of Genital Mutilations to Gender Power Politics”.


Egyptian women in particular should always remember that the first advocates against FGM in Egypt since the 1920s were male doctors. These pioneers availed their knowledge to the whole society. Knowledge in itself is power, but also the right to attain it is controlled by a network of decision makers that have the power to provide individuals and communities with information or deprive them from it. Thus, it is not appropriate for women to hide any knowledge from the public on the assumption that such knowledge is about male bodily integrity, which is not their priority or concern. Women who do so play the same oppressive role which was long played against them, and which is anti-hypothetical to their full emancipation.

Thus, women are recommended to combine forces against both FGM and MGM. They should take the initiative to encourage men to break the barrier of silence about MGM, to support them, and show understanding when some of them show resistance or denial. Bringing an end to the silence that surrounded such a taboo issue for thousands of years needs patience and persistent efforts to move MGM from the arena of political and ideological conflict to that of the right of bodily integrity for all as a basic human right. Women’s defense of men’s right to bodily integrity and their work against MGM will not have a negative impact on their struggle against FGM. On the contrary, work against MGM will defeat the argument that is used by some doctors that they can perform a minor sort of FGM analogous to male circumcision, on the assumption that the latter is a simple “beautification” and non-harmful procedure.


If you believe that genital mutilation is anything to do with patriarchy, think on the fact that almost all girls who are mutilated are mutilated because of, and by women. Most boys who are mutilated are mutilated by men, often at the behest of the mother.
If you still believe that genital mutilation is anything to do with patriarchy, ask yourself why the Men’s Rights Movement argues against it for both girls and boys.

The full paper was published in Al Raida Volume XX, No. 99 Fall 2002-2003.

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