Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation

Egypt has the highest number of women affected by female genital mutilation in the world. Silence around female genital mutilation (FGM) in Egypt is costing lives, campaigners warned on Tuesday ahead of the traditional "cutting season" when thousands of girls are expected to undergo the ancient ritual.

They called for better sex education in schools and urged clerics to talk about FGM at Friday prayers. National data suggests almost 90 percent of girls and women in Egypt have undergone FGM, which involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia. Egypt banned the practice in 2008, but it remains widespread with around three quarters of procedures carried out by health professionals, a report by anti-FGM group 28 Too Many said on Tuesday. There has been mounting concern following the deaths of several girls during botched procedures, including a teenager who bled to death in a hospital last May.

"The silence around the harmful practice ... has cost too many Egyptian girls their lives," said Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy, a leading voice on women's rights in the Arab world.

Egypt, which has the highest number of women affected by FGM in the world, strengthened its law last year, but 28 Too Many said convictions were rare and sentences light. It called for law enforcement officers and community leaders to be especially vigilant during the cutting season which peaks in May and June. Campaigners said a lack of sex education and information about FGM were preventing its eradication.

"Something that hurts so many girls and women is kept silent and taboo because it has to do with our vaginas and with sex," Eltahawy said in a statement.

The report said FGM in Egypt was often carried out in the name of religion and perpetuated by a "pervasive idea that women are 'oversexed', and that FGM curbs their sexual appetite". More than half of Egyptians believe a husband prefers his wife to be cut and around half of men think it prevents adultery, it said. Surveys suggest around half of Egyptians believe FGM is a religious requirement even though it is not mentioned in the Koran or Bible. Even medical practitioners will often defer to their cleric over anything taught in medical school, 28 Too Many said. Campaigners said religious leaders from all faiths must speak out against FGM and called for better training for medical staff.

" is incredibly disappointing to see that despite encouraging work to end FGM in Egypt, medicalisation continues to be a huge concern and the prevalence of FGM remains extremely high," said 28 Too Many founder Ann-Marie Wilson.

Worldwide, more than 200 million girls and women have undergone FGM, according to U.N. estimates.

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