Hey Ellen, listen up: Talk shows can be central to creating serious feminist change. This has been the experience in Egypt, where a recent sharp drop in female genital mutilation (FGM, “female circumcision”) is being attributed not just to legal changes and government efforts at education, but to a newfound willingness on the part of TV talk shows to discuss the politics and problems of genital cutting.
Anti-FGM campaigns have existed in Egypt since the 1920s, but typically had little success. Even now, more than 90 percent of women ages 25 to 29 have undergone FGM procedures. But a new survey [PDF] released by the Population Council, an international NGO, revealed that rates of FGM have dropped sharply in the very recent past. Only about 66 percent of girls ages 10 to 14, it found, had undergone the procedure.
Experts, including Vivian Fouad, a training coordinator for the Egyptian governmental campaign against FGM, credit the drop largely to the ability of the media, and talk shows in particular, to bring the issue directly into people’s homes. High-profile news coverage of FGM-related deaths, made possible by recent loosening of restrictions on independent media, led to frank talk-show discussions on the subject involving government and religious authorities. Bypassing obstacles like literacy, and making an end run around issues that often stymie in-person anti-FGM activism–such as not wanting to offend sensibilities in often conservative rural areas–these talk shows succeeded in taking the debate directly to women without mincing words.
Egyptian authorities and NGO experts concur that though the reduction in FGM is, in effect, fairly small–the Population Council’s Ghada Barsoum estimates that Egypt’s girls are currently only about 10 percent less likely to undergo FGM than their mothers were–the drop reflects some meaningful attitude change. Although the effort to eradicate FGM in Egypt and elsewhere is obviously a long-term war rather than a short-term battle, it appears that the humble talk show may be able to achieve results where traditional methods fear to tread.
Video: Women discuss FGM on an Egyptian TV show.
ABOVE: Screen shot of Vivian Fouad on an Egyptian TV show talking about FGM.