Aug 30, 2010

Cut my clitoris, please!

A campaign poster against FGM
So there I was, giving training at one of those sexuality education sessions. It was an introductory session, I was trying to be careful as possible as these young people are going to publicly discuss sexuality-related issues for the first time in their lives (in a health context of course)!

I came up with an information sharing game, to make it easier for them to participate and learn. I prepared a set of statements in the form of scientific facts. Then, I split each statement into two parts and distributed all the parts to the trainees, then asked them to find the other half of the statement they have.

One of the statements said: “Female genital cutting (FGM) could lead to bleeding, infertility, and loss of sexual appetite (berood ginsi).” After each of them found his/her matching half of the statement, I asked each of them to read the statement out loud. One of the girls said it out loud, but after she did, she shook her head and said “I’m not convinced, how can this happen?”

I went on explaining how the conditions and the delicacy of this surgery could lead to such fate. I also explained the function of the clitoris and how its cutting leads to loss of sexual desire.

“But isn’t this [loss of sexual desire] better to happen for women?” exclaimed the girl. I was surprised to be honest, even though I should have expected it, I guess it surprises me every time, especially when this kind of comment comes from a girl/woman! I think her only excuse is that she most probably haven’t started a sexual life yet, and she would know it better first hand and she wouldn’t have her children undergo the same awful procedure!

FGM prevalence in Africa

However, one shouldn’t be exactly surprised with this kind of FGM apologia in Egypt. The practice is indeed widely prevalent with shocking numbers. Egypt Demographic and Health Survey in 2008 demonstrates that the prevalence among women aged 15 to 49 is 91%. Although the practice seems to be declining among the younger generation, the phenomenon is widespread. With such rates, then definitely majority of the community supports it and have good reasons behind it. 

I am going to delve into it more in the upcoming post. Wait for Part II of this post! 

Aug 13, 2010

Sexuality Education Woes in Egypt

The talk about sexuality hardly ever surfaces in Egypt. Even when an article or a speech is given by an enlightened intellectual, waves of rejection and censure usually follow. Discussing sexuality usually stirs accusations of spreading vice and encouraging promiscuity. Consequently, the debate on sexuality education here is starkly lacking and flawed, just like the process of sex education itself.

The government and other religious and social institutions ignore basic human rights such as the right of information and the right to health when they fail to deliver comprehensive sexuality education information to the people, especially young people who are most vulnerable due to the sensitive changes they are going through.

Public education ignores sexuality information, except for a class on human reproduction during preparatory school and some skewed information on sexually transmitted infections. A lot of young people remember that awkward science class where the teacher was too embarrassed to effectively convey useful lessons on sexuality, or skipped the class altogether.

Civil society organizations have recently recognized the importance of delivering sexuality education programs to young people. Evidently, these programs only reach a very small segment of young people in Egypt, who make up about 40% of the total population. Apart from quantity, quality remains a major challenge. Educating young people on sexuality includes a wide array of topics, such as puberty changes; understanding the body and its functions; exploring identity; sexually transmitted infections, gender based violence; partner communication, etc. Sex Ed is often combined with life skills education to enhance young people’s ability to make right decisions about their lives and how to communicate these with partners.

Reality is unfortunately far from this. Instead of providing a positive approach to sexuality, it is often portrayed as an evil desire that needs to be controlled. Instead of promoting tolerance and understanding, it’s not uncommon to find Sex Ed programs that foster negative attitudes towards sexuality and gender. For example, gender equality is poorly delivered; premarital sex is a taboo; homosexuality is defined as a disease that afflicts young people; and safer sex practices are often omitted.

Without going too into too much detail, there is a litany of reasons behind this. Clearly, Sex Ed has a lot of prerequisites that must precede it such as teaching human rights, privacy, tolerance, and gender equality. 

Finally, sexuality is closely associated with people’s happiness and productivity. Providing comprehensive information regarding sexuality is a goal that must be achieved equally and effectively for a better nation.