Female Circumcision, which is also known as female genital mutilation (FGM), is a major problem within Egypt and it's surrounding countries that has been practiced for many years. El Saadawi's mother, aunts, and grandmother as well as herself had all been circumcised and the reasoning dates back with cultural and religious beliefs.
Reasoning: In a heavily traditional environment, El Saadawi and her culture believe that sex is to be practiced after marriage, to ensure purity within one's sacred body. In order to ensure that a woman's body is pure, elder women in the family perform circumcision because it is believed that this surgery removes the urge for women to desire sex. This has never been actually proven nor is it sanitary/healthy for women either. The only reasoning El Saadawi believes that women don't desire sex after circumcision is because they are traumatized from the abuse to the vaginal area and are embarrassed to ever show a man their body.
El Saadawi had come across a case where a young girl came in with her husband with an appearance of a pregnant belly. She was pale and so thin, El saadawi thought she couldn't have been more than 12 years old. She was 16 years old. Her husband believed she was just pregnant but after El Saadwai examined her, it was concluded she wasn't pregnant. El Saadwai noticed she was born with a thick, elastic, non-perforated hymen. So, the swelling of her belly wasn't because of pregnancy, but due to her menstrual flow that had built up within her vagina month after month of not being able to discharge from her body. El Saadawi had made an opening within her hymen and watched as the accumulated blood rushed out her body. Later on, the girl explained her husband had accused her of not being a virgin because she had not bled the night of marriage (a ceremony I will touch upon later), so she had been living a marriage filled with abuse, hostility, and unhappiness because of the accusations only to later find out it was due to her circumcision done when she was younger.
As a solution to the problem, El Saadawi believes it's essential to educate people of the consequences that come with the procedure. Usually, the procedure is done at home with women and unsanitary tools in order to keep the event 'sacred.' However, this aids to the young girls risk of disease, infection, or even death. During El Saadawai's time as a physician, she witnessed one too many cases where the a young women would come in with an infected vagina due to a poor circumcision procedure when she was younger. El Saadwai argues that families are more likely not to perform the procedure if they knew that it could result in infection, abnormal pregnancies, or even death.
Nawal El Saadawi: Advocate for Change (from 1950's -1980's)
- Educated at Cairo University, 'Ayn Shams University, and Columbia and has taught at many prestigious schools across the US (i.e. Yale, Cal Berkeley, Univ of Florida, Columbia, etc)
- 1955 - 1965: Worked as physician where she observed the harsh treatment of many of her patients
- 1960: Published Memoirs of a Woman Doctor
- 1966: became director general for Ministry of Health in Egypt
- 1968: founded Health magazine which would later be shut down by govt due to thought-provoking ideas that didn't align with Egyptian customs
- 1969: published Women and Sex which led to her expulsion from her job in Ministry of Health
- 1972: The Thread and the Wall published
- 1973 - 1976: she worked on researching women and neurosis in Ain Shams University's Faculty of Medicine
- 1977: Hidden Faces of Eve published
- 1979 - 1980: she was the United Nations Advisor for the Women's Program in Africa (ECA) and the Middle East (ECWA)
- 1982: founded Arab Women's Solidarity Association (which govt eventually shuts down)
The procedure of circumcision also does not prevent girls from being raped. Rape occurs ever so often from men that are usually within the family or family friends and is usually targeted towards very young girls.
El Saadawi had also mentioned how one of her patients had been seduced and raped by her own grandfather since the age of 5. The young girl lived in a busy house with many siblings and cousins that always kept a smile on her face. When her grandfather would walk in the room, everyone would come completely silent and the smiles would swipe off their face. Her mother always warned her not to go into the garden with grandfather alone but one day he called her. She said, he kept inching closer and closer and she was scared that he would disappoint him if she resented. But, she knew it was wrong. When her mother would ask of her whereabouts she would lie and say she was outside playing with her cousins in order to protect her grandfather and her's "little secret" is what he told her to call it. She realized as she grew older that he manipulated her into having sex with him multiple times.
Linked below is an article articulating the mistreatment of women in Egypt: "the worst place in the Middle East to be a woman"
After a couple gets married, a ceremony takes place behind closed doors to ultimately test whether the bride is a virgin or not. The daya would embed her long nail into the hymen of the bride and blood was to fall out, drenching the white towel. Drums would sound to drown out the screaming of the bride. Sometimes, the husband would be the one replacing the finger of the daya and the abuse worsened in these situations.
The video below describes the wedding ceremony that takes place (2:15 - 3:45)