‘Stop Killing Egyptian Girls!’ Said the Court. After This Victory, What’s Next?

Bedor Ahmed: One of too many victims of FGM.
Bedor Ahmed: One of too many victims of FGM.

I awoke yesterday to good news: In Egypt, a doctor was sentenced to prison for carrying out female genital mutilation (FGM) that resulted in a girl’s death. It was a historic moment when the court said, essentially: “Stop killing Egyptian girls! Enough is enough — you’re going to pay the price for causing her death by this barbaric ritual.”

We should all rejoice in this victory for justice. But the joy is weighed down with sadness, and is tied to a determination to fight on, because this victory came too late for so many girls. Let me tell you about one victim of FGM whose life touched Coptic Orphans.

Bedor Ahmed was just a girl when she died — probably too young to even know what was going on. FGM killed her. How she must have felt as she died, I can’t even imagine. Betrayed? Terrified?  Heartbroken?

After Bedor died in 2007, 20 girls from Coptic Orphans’ Valuable Girl Project marched in her memory in Assiut.  With others from the community, including local officials and members of other nonprofits, they marched past the governorate office carrying banners denouncing FGM. At the head of the march was a car with a coffin decorated with flowers and Bedor’s photo.

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Valuable Girl Project participants march in Bedor’s memory, and for their future.

It’s important to march, it’s important to remember the dead. But it’s also important to educate the living. That’s why the march for Bedor was part of a wider campaign by Coptic Orphans to teach mothers, daughters, and community leaders — indeed, all people — about the dangers of FGM.

This kind of campaigning is critically important, because although Egypt banned FGM in 2008, it’s still everywhere.  Government data show that over 90% of Egyptian women under 50 years old have suffered it.

Here’s what we’ve done, by God’s grace and with your support, to combat this evil. To date, over 1,500 mothers and daughters have taken part in workshops and conferences that lay out the dangers of FGM. Both the Valuable Girl Project and the Not Alone program have been key to holding those events. More than that, over 400 church-based volunteers — the “Reps” who are our backbone in Egypt — keep up a constant fight against FGM.

That fight takes many forms. Sometimes it involves spreading the word among community leaders that FGM is disastrous for children’s health. Sometimes it’s as simple — and difficult — as persuading a single mother to refrain from having FGM carried out on her daughter.

We do know that we see results from this work. For the workshops, we’ve brought in clergy and experts whose precise knowledge demolishes the myths of FGM.  In those events, at times, we’ve had dozens of mothers announce that they’ve decided against having FGM performed on their daughters.

At other times, achieving results takes a combination of workshops and hard work by the Reps. One story in Sohag comes to mind: Two little girls in grades 6 and 5 took part in a Coptic Orphans workshop, and afterwards resisted undergoing FGM. They asked their Rep to talk to their mother. He did so, inviting her to attend a seminar on the topic. Following the seminar, the mother declared that she now understood that FGM was wrong, and expressed regret that she had insisted on having it done to three of her other daughters.

Of course, a critical element in all this is the participation of the mothers and girls themselves. It’s powerful when nonprofits and government officials speak up. But that power is multiplied by thousands when Egyptian women and their brothers in Christ take to the streets to proclaim that FGM must be stopped. The deciding factor in eliminating FGM will be when ordinary people echo the court’s decision, saying “Enough is enough!”

And indeed, the “Enough is enough!” sentiment is beginning  to take root. In some areas, the knowledge of FGM’s dangers is seeping into the consciousness of entire communities. As a former Rep, Abouna Botrous, told us last summer: “With the help of Coptic Orphans, I was able to completely overcome some of the harmful village habits, such as female genital mutilation.”

Of course, we are not alone in this. There is a powerful movement among people from all walks of life to eliminate this deadly practice, and members of the Church are playing a key role. As one abouna from Sohag told us, “We’ve managed to eliminate FGM, to a large degree, through the Church’s efforts.”

So we’re making progress. This week’s landmark court decision is a good sign. If Bedor were able to know of the movement that’s building to stop FGM, perhaps she would take comfort. In the meantime, we will keep fighting, because we owe it to her memory. Most of all, we owe it to the girls who we can still save from dying by FGM.

If you would like to learn more about what you can do to stop FGM, please write to us at info@copticorphans.org

About Nermien Riad

Nermien Riad founded Coptic Orphans in 1988 after volunteering for an orphanage in Cairo. When she saw that most of the children had living widowed mothers who simply couldn't afford to feed them, she gathered family and friends to sponsor children in Egypt. Today Coptic Orphans works through a network of 400+ church-based volunteers in Egypt, who visit fatherless families in their homes and make sure they get everything they need to unlock their full potential. That way, they don't have to get married off as child brides, work as 10-year old family breadwinners, or go to live at an institutional orphanage.