Prevalence of female genital mutilation (FGM). Source: UNICEF 2013. Illustration: Johnuniq, Creative Commons Share Alike License 4.0

The Politics of Female Circumcision in Egypt

In Egypt, 91 percent of women aged 15-49 have undergone female circumcision or genital mutilation/cutting, according to UNICEF. Female circumcision has become a political minefield with 'Western' interventions affecting Egyptian affairs. In a new book, researcher Maria Frederika Malmström employs an ethnographic approach to this controversial issue.

“My aim is to understand how female gender identity is continually created and re-created in Egypt through a number of daily practices. Female circumcision plays a central role in this process”, says Maria Frederika Malmström, researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute.

Malmström explores the experiences of circumcision and femininity as told by Muslim women of different generations from the lower-income neighbourhoods of Cairo. It is through the voices of these women that she offers an analysis of gender identity in Egypt and its impact on women's sexuality. “The book demonstrates how womanhood is learnt in the everyday lives of Cairo women. Circumcision is essential for becoming a moral Muslim woman, with special ‘inner’ and ‘external’ attributes, and it is a prerequisite for marriage and motherhood”, says Malmström.

In her book, she argues that female circumcision cannot be analysed as a separate phenomenon. Instead, it is one thread of an intricate web that is deeply interwoven into all aspects of social, cultural and political life. “The meaning of female circumcision should therefore be seen as an integral part of the daily making of femininity, which is a life-long process rather than a one-time event”, says researcher Maria Frederika Malmström.

The book will be launched on 11 April at Columbia University in New York, in conjunction with a panel discussion. Panelists: Beth Baron, Professor of History; Katherine Ewing, Professor of Religion; Lisa Rubin, Associate Professor of Psychology; and Maria Frederika Malmström, senior researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute. For more details, please see Columbia University Website.

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