x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Female circumcision in decline: study

Emirati researcher calls for total ban on practice after conducting a survey showing UAE nationals largely oppose it.

DUBAI // A young Emirati researcher has called for a ban on female circumcision after conducting a survey of UAE nationals who largely opposed the practice.

Wafa al Marzouqi, the author of Fatal Traditions: Female Circumcision in the UAE, has also called for increased awareness of the procedure in the UAE, after surveying 200 Emirati men and women, and having their interviews published in her college magazine.

Thirty-four per cent of the female respondents had been circumcised, and cited customs and traditions for the practice. A "significant" 40 per cent of the circumcised women said they favoured the practice and would also have their daughters circumcised.

Overall, 82 per cent of female and 99 per cent of male respondents said they opposed the practice, commonly known as female genital cutting or genital mutilation.

"Most of them, who have been circumcised, didn't know whether it was done for religious reasons or because of tradition," said Ms al Marzouqi, 22, who received a bachelor of applied communications last June from Dubai Women's College.

"When I started talking to them, they thought it was a must in the religion. But when I did some research and interviews with Islamic scholars, I found that circumcision is a must for males, but not for females, according to Islam," said Ms al Marzouqi, who is currently working as a research analyst for the Government.

"The main reason is people don't read. If their families told them it is a must by Islam, they accept it without questioning," she said. "It is very sad that they do this."

Ms al Marzouqi's report notes that the Ministry of Health does not allow female circumcision in government hospitals and clinics, but the procedure is performed secretly in either private clinics or even at home, which could have unhealthy consequences.

"It's good that it is banned in the government sector. But we need it to be banned in the private sector as well. I don't see the reason why it is prohibited in one sector and not the other," said Ms al Marzouqi.

The practice, in which usually a small portion of the female genitalia is removed, was most common among Emirati tribal families, the study revealed.

While girls are usually circumcised between seven and nine years of age, the report cited instances of women as old as 22 who had their genitalia removed after would-be spouses demanded the procedure as a condition of marriage.

However, a majority of men interviewed in the study rejected the tradition because of its physical and psychological scars. Some even called it "unjust", and accused people of misinterpreting religious teachings. Ms al Marzouqi said the findings of the study were "encouraging", as most men were opposed to it, which effectively meant that it was declining.

The research paper, which was part of Ms al Marzouqi's college graduation project, was an idea put forth by a peer, and she pursued it.

"I liked the thought of working on the issue," she said. "However, there were no statistics available anywhere, and I had to do my own research on it. The main objective for this study was to highlight the different perspectives and raise awareness on the topic."

The project presented challenges.

"Even if there were statistics, they were very hard to get," she said. "Some of the people in charge or government officials didn't take us seriously as we are college students and not professional journalists."

Ms al Marzouqi interviewed 100 women and 100 men, in person or through e-mails or Facebook. She got in touch with them through friends and by approaching people in coffee shops. Interviews were conducted via the telephone, Facebook and e-mail. Most of the respondents were aged 17 to 30.

Questionnaires were handed to respondents asking if they had been circumcised or knew women who had been circumcised. The survey also asked whether respondents were for or against the practice, the reasons for its existence and whether they would have their daughters circumcised.

The study, conducted last June, is published in the current issue of Desert Dawn, abi-annual publication by the applied communications department of Dubai Women's College.

"We want to give students a platform," said Dr Howard Reed, the director of the college, after the article, which was translated from Arabic, was printed this year in the January to June issue of the magazine.

"These are relevant issues that need to be discussed," he said. "The students come in with all the topics and run them by me. I tell them to get the facts and don't be afraid."

He added, "This is an educational institution, and we are raising issues that are relevant to society."

pkannan@thenational.ae