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How a local health barber gave up on FGM/C

© UNICEF Egypt/ 2006/ Todras-Whitehill
Hassan says he is now convinced that FGM/C is wrong and will never perform it again

An interview by Tiziana Barrucci

Minya, June 2006:
“Promise me that you will write under my pictures that I stopped. I am not doing it any more and I want people to know”.

We are in Minya in Upper Egypt. As I watched Hassan- a big man with lively eyes-, I could imagine a sort of glorious past in his life. Hassan used to be a “health barber” who performs circumcisions on boys, a well respected profession in his community. He began performing circumcisions on girls later on.

His chosen profession used to earn him a considerable income. But one day he heard about the Better Life Association for Comprehensive Development, a local NGO that is campaigning against Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) with the support of UNICEF. It was the beginning of a change in heart which caused Hassan to regret some of his past practices.

- Why did you start circumcising girls?
Well, actually at first I only circumcised boys. Then the nature of the job led to circumcising girls as well. Whenever I went to a house to circumcise a boy, and there was a girl in the family, they inevitably asked me to perform the same operation on her. At the beginning I didn’t want to because I didn’t think it was appropriate for a man to perform this kind of operation on a girl. But since I used anaesthetics in my work to decrease the pain and suffering of my male patients, families asked me to use the same techniques on their girls as well. I didn’t cut a lot, though. And again, frankly, I didn’t want to.

- So what made you do it?
Mainly because of social pressure from friends and acquaintances. In Arabic we say “mogamalat”, or exchange of favours. I help you and you help me. And when that was the case, I couldn’t say no.

- What made you stop?
I didn’t stop completely at once. I started to work sometimes with the daya (midwife), to check her work and help her. Then little by little I became aware that is not a good thing to circumcise girls.

- How come?
Because I started to have doubts -- I felt that there was something wrong. Circumcised women don’t feel comfortable with their husbands. They don’t have desire, and so their husbands are not happy. Sometimes they are forced to go away and look for other women. Circumcised girls and women also suffer psychological problems. I used to feel very embarrassed when I performed the operation, and I could tell from the girl’s eyes that she was embarrassed as well. In the meantime, I got in contact with people of BLACD. They invited me to several of their meetings, where I met doctors and religious leaders who explained the dangers of girls’ circumcision. When I was finally convinced, I stopped doing operations on girls completely.

- Would you go back to circumcising girls again?
I am completely convinced now that circumcising girls is wrong and I will never go back to it. Even if a neighbour asks me now, I refuse. Although I used to earn a lot of money with that job, that doesn’t matter now. I am done.

 

 
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