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The Politics of Female Circumcision in Egypt: Gender, Sexuality and the Construction of Identity

The Politics of Female Circumcision in Egypt: Gender, Sexuality and the Construction of Identity
Maria Frederika Malmstrom, Maria Frederika Malmstrom

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The percentage of women aged 15-49 in Egypt who have undergone the procedure of female circumcision, or genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) stands at 91%, according to the latest research carried out by UNICEF. Female circumcision has become a global political minefield with 'Western' interventions affecting Egyptian politics and social development, not least in the area of democracy and human rights. Maria Frederika Malmstrom employs an ethnographic approach to this controversial issue, with the aim of understanding how female gender identity is continually created and re-created in Egypt through a number of daily practices, and the central role which female circumcision plays in this process. Viewing the concept of 'agency' as critical to the examination of social and cultural trends in the region, Malmstrom explores the lived experiences and social meanings of circumcision and femininity as narrated by women from Cairo. It is through the examination of the voices of these women that she offers an analysis of gender identity in Egypt and its impact on women's sexuality.

Author Info

Maria Frederika Malmstrom holds a doctorate in Social Anthropology from the School of Global Studies, Social Anthropology, University of Gothenburg. She is a Senior Researcher for North Africa in the Conflict, Security and Democratic Transformation cluster at the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala, Sweden. She is also a visiting scholar at New York University, working from 2010-2012 in the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality and from 2012 in Performance Studies at the Tisch School of the Arts. Malmstrom worked previously as a Senior Lecturer at the Department of School of Global Studies at University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and at the Department of Cultural Studies, University West, Sweden. Additionally, she is a gender consultant for UNFPA and UNICEF and a member of several academic and policy networks.


‘The Politics of Female Circumcision in Egypt is a deep and sensitive exploration of how the politicization of female circumcision is informing discourses and experiences of marriage, sexuality, and femininity among lower income families in contemporary Cairo. Malmström’s rich case studies illuminate Egyptian women’s agency against the backdrop of everyday cultural patterns, religious and secular tensions, and generational debates over proper forms of intimacy and gendered comportment. At once highly accessible, multi-layered, and revealing, this book is a major contribution to our understandings of gender dynamics in the Middle East.’
Janice Boddy, FRSC, Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto

‘An unsurpassed account of the (contested) meaning and experience of femininity In the land of the “Arab Spring”, where most Egyptian women continue to embrace the gender-sculpting practice of female circumcision, both for themselves and for their children.  The surgery is painful and typically occurs with little preparation in middle childhood.   Yet in and around Cairo most adult women do not view themselves as “mutilated” (quite the contrary), nor has their sex life been ruined (quite the contrary).  Global and local campaigns to criminalize the practice in Egypt’s faction ridden political climate have caused some younger women to wonder whether they have been disfigured and sexually destroyed.  In the eyes of many other Egyptian women female circumcision enhances the female body (and mind) and is viewed as an act of civil disobedience in defense of female honor and family privacy.  Congratulations to Maria Malmstrom for her social maturity, professionalism and intellectual balance: What an accomplishment for this liberal secular Swedish anthropologist to fairly represent the voices of low income Arab Muslim women, who enjoy sex (and even watch pornographic films) yet still believe in family honor, virgin brides, the intimate connections between marriage, sex and reproduction, and for whom female circumcision, the experience of deflowering after marriage, and childbirth are highly valued as the three great character building and ennobling ordeals of life.’
Richard A. Shweder, Harold Higgins Swift Distinguished Service Professor, Department of Comparative Human Development, University of Chicago

‘Malmström’s compelling portrayal of the generational changes revolves around intimate ethnographic data of unprecedented detail and subtlety. All future ethnographic work on female circumcision will be compared to Maria Malström’s compelling analysis.  She has set a new standard of intimate and insightful ethnography of cultural change in our globalizing world.’
Ellen Gruenbaum, Professor and Head, Department of Anthropology, Purdue University

Bibliographic Info

Imprint: I.B.Tauris
Publisher: I.B.Tauris & Co. Ltd.
Series: Library of Modern Middle East Studies

ISBN: 9781784531577
Publication Date: 29 Mar 2016
Number of Pages: 256
Height: 216
Width: 138
Illustrations: 13 bw integrated

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