On Monday, a doctor in Egypt was convicted for his role in to the death of Sohair al-Bataa, a 13-year-old girl who died as a result of a botched female genital mutilation (FGM) operation carried out last year. It’s the first time that anyone in Egypt has faced justice for the widely-practiced form of gender based violence.
Raslan Fadl, the doctor, was acquitted in November. However, in a recent appeal, he was sentenced to two years in prison for manslaughter plus an additional three months for carrying out the FGM operation. The court also ordered that his clinic be closed for a year. Al-Bataa’s father was given a three month suspended sentence for his part in the mutilation of his daughter.
Fadl claimed that he operated on Sohair al-Bataa to remove a wart — not to hinder her from feeling sexual pleasure in the future.
“In every country in the world you would carry out this operation,” he said. Fadl added that he felt the case was “all made up by these dogs’ rights people” — derogatory term for human rights activists.
“Now Sohair al-Bataa can lie peacefully in her grave in the knowledge that she has won her rights, and the rights of every girl who has been circumcised,” Reda al-Danbouki, the Egyptian lawyer who launched the case to bring justice to the girl told the Guardian, using a euphemism for FGM.
“This verdict won’t eliminate FGM but at least doctors will think 10 times before doing it,” she said.
Like al-Danbouki, many fear that its “medicalization” has offered legitimacy to a human rights abuse.
Rights groups are hopeful that this case will help deter future instances of FGM — and pressure medical professionals into giving up their part entrenched cultural custom.
According to UNICEF, more than 90 percent of woman in Egypt have been the victims of FGM. 77 percent of them were mutilated by medical professionals.
In a legal sense, the pendulum on FGM in Egypt has swung back and forth for decades. Employees of state-run hospitals were barred from performing FGM in 1959. In 1994, the state reversed the ban in hopes that making the procedure safer. A year later, FGM was banned in state hospitals once again.
FGM wasn’t outlawed and criminalized until 2008. This case is the first time that someone was indicted under the law which has been contested by some religious groups who see it as a component of Islam — although it predates the religion and has been condemned by some prominent Islamic groups.
“The country has shown that it will implement its laws and we hope that this is the first step towards ending this extreme form of violence against women once and for all,” said Suad Abu-Dayyeh, a spokeswoman for the women’s rights organization Equality Now.
She called the sentencing “a monumental victory for women and girls in Egypt.”
The case is especially noteworthy because cultural and social norms tend to keep FGM cases out of courts.
As ThinkProgress previously reported, few FGM victims are willing to speak out about the violence inflicted on them since doing so could mean implicating their families and shaming their communities.
Even in the United Kingdom where FGM was made explicitly illegal in 1985, no cases have come forward even though the practice is surprisingly prevalent.
In December, 500 new cases of FGM were reported across hospitals in England in November. That’s just over the 466 cases that came up in November: an average of 15 a day.
Some women have taken real risks to keep their daughters from suffering the same fate they faced when mutilated, and recent evidence shows that FGM is less prevalent among younger women in Egypt.
But among some segments of the population cutting all or part of a girl’s genitals is still seen as a necessary aspect of her upbringing.
In Sohair al-Bataa’s Nile delta village, a 40-year-old housewife told the Guardian, “We circumcise all our children, they say it’s good for our girls.” She added, “The law won’t stop anything, the villagers will carry on. Our grandfathers did it and so shall we.”