Tag Archives: FGM

Stop Killing Little Girls! New Campaign Points to Need for Unity in Fight Against FGM

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Participants in Coptic Orphans’ Valuable Girl Project take part in 2007 march in Assiut in memory of FGM victim Bedor Ahmed.

A new campaign to stop female genital mutilation (FGM) in Egypt is adding urgency to our efforts to stop this lethal and barbaric practice.

The government is enlisting doctors and judges in a “National FGM Strategy” with the aim of reducing FGM by 10-15% over the next five years.

At a launch event in Cairo on June 14, officials also unveiled a media campaign to raise public awareness of the dangers of FGM, which still affects over 92% of Egyptian women ages 15-49 who have been married.

It’s a great beginning, and now non-governmental organizations have to step up and fill in where there are gaps.

Why is it crucial for civil society to partner with the government on FGM? I recently heard a story that shows how powerful and lasting the anti-FGM message can be when women hear it in their own community. Just this month, a staff member told me, an anti-FGM workshop that Coptic Orphans organized five years ago actually “saved” one of our children from undergoing this horrible, dangerous experience.

The mother of a little girl in our program took her to a doctor who advised carrying out FGM. The mother refused to listen to him, or her neighbors, simply because of what she heard 5 years ago in the workshop. And she’s just one of over 1,500 mothers and daughters who have been in these workshops and conferences that denounce FGM for the crime it is.

In fact, it’s not too strong to call FGM child abuse, and that’s one reason it’s not surprising that we can rely on the Church for support in this fight. Some of our best workshops have been led by abounas.

Imagine being a mother and hearing from a trusted leader of your own community that FGM is wrong. No wonder the mother I was told about chose to protect her daughter from pain and possibly even dying, as has happened to so many girls subjected to FGM.

When I look to the future, here’s what’s exciting. We have more than 400 Church-based volunteers — the “Reps” who are our backbone in Egypt — who keep up the fight against FGM by advising mothers about its dangers.

Furthermore, we know we’re not the only non-governmental organization that can reach mothers and young women with the anti-FGM message. So it’s exciting to think how civil society and the government could really partner in the next few years to stop FGM.

It’s not that an easy victory is coming. We face powerful opposition. Doctors and other medical “professionals” (to use that term loosely) carry out the vast majority of these mutilations. To make money, they keep these old traditions alive.

If only they cared as much about keeping little girls alive.

Regardless, their time is coming, and we’re proud to bring the fight to them. Let’s look at the new government campaign as one more opportunity to bury FGM.

What Do Moms Want? This Mother’s Day, It’s Valuable Daughters

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The Valuable Girl Project’s effects reach beyond the girls to their families.

“Can we do anything to make sure the Valuable Girl Project continues?” a group of mothers recently asked us.

The mothers, whose daughters take part in Big Sister-Little Sister mentoring at our site in Sohag, said they’d seen remarkable changes in their girls. They wanted to help keep those changes going.

For Egypt, which doesn’t have (to put it politely) the strongest traditions of women’s empowerment or civil society, this was something striking. The mothers’ offer to help also highlighted something that we don’t talk about much — the wider effects of the Valuable Girl Project.

Most of what we describe to supporters is the project’s core: Meeting young women’s needs for education and skills, nurturing their sense of self-worth, encouraging them to steer clear of harmful traditions such as FGM and early marriage, and offering them safe spaces to interact in an atmosphere of religious tolerance.

But the project’s effects radiate outwards beyond the girls, and no one feels the benefits more strongly than mothers.

For example, we regularly survey participants, who range in age from 7 to 22. Nearly all report that their lives have changed because of the project, citing a greater belief in their own sense of responsibility, discipline, punctuality, self-confidence, and study skills.

What mother doesn’t want her daughter to become more responsible, confident, self-disciplined, and studious? It’s traits like these that the mothers in Sohag said they were noticing in their daughters.

But as important as these personal traits and skills are, the project also has tangible benefits for each family’s bottom line.

For example, any mother who’s struggled with bureaucracy knows the value of having paperwork in order. In places like Egypt, a lack of this stamp or that document can create immovable roadblocks to basic rights and government services. And too often, poverty, discrimination, and other obstacles prevent “our” girls from obtaining a government identity card.

The Valuable Girl Project educates and advocates for young women as they navigate Egypt’s maze of red tape. By the end of their first year of participating in the project, nearly 30% more “Big Sisters” have government identity cards — the key to unlocking significant rights and services.

In other words, mothers of Valuable Girl Project participants can see their daughters grow in maturity, confidence, and skills, while making progress in securing their rights and resources.

That’s a combination of benefits that’s hard to come by in Egyptian society, and one we’re excited to provide through the Valuable Girl Project. And, with Mother’s Day fast approaching, it’s worth remembering that these valuable girls are also valuable daughters.

We salute the strong mothers of our participants, and we’re grateful for their offer to help the Valuable Girl Project keep building and succeeding!

‘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