In Egypt, even though FGM is legally banned, it is perpetuated by the main enforcer, the matriarch of the family, the grandmother. The practitioners who carry out the procedures in small villages are mostly midwifes and barbers.
From 2008 to 2010, WISE collaborated with a local partner organization in the area Dair El Nahia region of Giza, Egypt to work with FGM practitioners to stop performing the FGM procedure. We identified common practitioners, ie. barbers and midwifes, who were performing between 120-180 FGM procedures a year and included them in a pilot project combining religious education and income replacement strategies in eliminating the practice of FGM in Egypt’s slum areas.
WISE provided the practitioners with religious training in the form of accurate scriptural interpretation and included a certificate from Al-Azhar University confirming that FGM is un-Islamic which gave the practitioners the religious authority to stop the practice themselves and advocate for its cessation throughout their communities.
The first practitioner was a barber, for whom this was an issue of supply and demand. “People need this service, so they come here, what am I supposed to do?” he said. “There is nobody else for them to go to.” And for him, the work providing much- needed additional income. Amin regularly committed FGM illegally so he could financially support his wife and three children.
To stop the practice at the source, WISE underwrote a brand- new shop, fitted with an adjustable chair; a TV; a sink with running water; a blow- dryer; and a mirror with lights— everything new. The shop’s income stream increased, it quickly became the envy of the village— and the barber became a champion against FGM. He provided names of seventeen other practitioners in his village whom WISE approached one by one with the same message and a plan for each of their businesses—a convenience store, a tuk- tuk (a small scooter taxi) service, and a poultry shop.
Amin proudly displays in his barbershop a declaration from Al-Azhar University that FGM is un-Islamic and haraam (forbidden).
In 2009, Aisha a midwife, was a practitioner of FGM who agreed to stop performing FGM procedures in exchange for an investment in an upstart “Fresh” Poultry Shop. She became a proud owner of a brand new corner store selling poultry. She exhibited model entrepreneurial skills when she employed two young boys to manage her store. Aisha’s poultry business was a model of success for the program. In her shop, beside a wall of live chickens in metal cages, a small black- and- white television flickered proudly on a metal cart, attached to an extension cord. Aisha picked up a chicken and held it out to WISE Executive Director- “Or- gan- ic!” she announced in English, beaming. She has a successful small business, a new perspective— and her pride.
When WISE Executive Director asked her for a comment, she said, “Now I sleep soundly at night. I don’t hear the screaming girls, I am not harming anyone, and I can relax because I only work five days a week now— and I have peace of mind because my income is reliable.”
WISE enlisted a prominent imam from Cairo who had seen the adverse effects of FGM firsthand. “Every time a couple comes to discuss their sexual problem, FGM is behind it,” he told us. “We must stop this practice. I am ready to help you!”
He was so passionate that he made a further pronouncement: “Let me be very clear: FGM is not a Muslim practice. It precedes the birth of both Islam and Christianity. It is not mentioned in the Quran— on the contrary, the Quran promotes mutual pleasure during marital sexual intercourse, which FGM severely limits.” When asked if he was willing to become our champion and go public with these pronouncements, he said, “Of course. It is my religious duty to prevent this harmful act. It has caused long- term damage to too many families— sadly, some have broken up because of it.”