Journal Article

The decline of female circumcision in Egypt: Evidence and interpretation

Female circumcision is widespread in Egypt. Research suggests that the practice persists because of a belief that circumcision will moderate female sexuality, that it will assure a girl’s marriagability, and that it is sanctioned by Islam. Using data from a nationally representative survey of adolescents, this paper investigates the prevalence and social correlates of circumcision among girls aged 10–19, the circumstances surrounding the procedure, and the attitudes of adolescents towards it. While the vast majority of adolescents are circumcised, a life table analysis indicates that girls today are at least 10 percentage points less likely to undergo female circumcision than were their mothers. Circumcision may have begun to decline prior to the time when the current cohort of girls were at risk; however, the data hint at a temporal association between the decline and the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, a time when the campaign against circumcision gained momentum. Over half of circumcised girls reported that the procedure was performed by a physician or nurse rather than a traditional practitioner. This represents a substantial increase over rates of “medicalized” circumcision found among earlier cohorts of Egyptian women. Even among circumcised girls, support for the practice is by no means universal, with 14 percent saying they think the procedure is unnecessary and a further 28 percent expressing ambivalence. A multivariate analysis indicates that girls who have been or are currently in school, who live in urban governorates, and who are older are more likely to believe that circumcision is not obligatory. When the analysis includes boys as well as uncircumcised girls, a large gender gap emerges, with boys considerably more supportive of the practice than are their female counterparts.