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Women’s Health (Egypt)

Volume 545: debated on Wednesday 23 May 2012

I am mindful of the fact that the first round of presidential elections in Egypt is taking place as we speak. My Department is focused on economic and political transition in Egypt through the Arab Partnership. We do not have a health programme there, but the Department is committed to improving women’s health across the world, with particular focus on the poorest countries and the most vulnerable women. Over the next five years, our support will help to save the lives of at least 50,000 women in pregnancy and childbirth.

The rate of female genital mutilation in Egypt is now 70%. Some in the country’s political parties want to change the constitution to end all legal restrictions on the practice. I am sure that if the proposal was to chop off part of men’s genitalia, the Minister would put this issue at the top of his agenda. Will he prioritise ending this barbaric human rights abuse?

I absolutely agree that it is a wholly unacceptable and barbaric practice. It is a custom that has survived for millennia, and I assure the hon. Lady that I have taken up this issue on many occasions, and that I seek to ensure it is highlighted. It is genuinely one of the issues that we have put at the top of our agenda, and I discuss it whenever I get the chance to do so in the many countries of Africa where it is prevalent. I assure her that we are committed to this very important project.

The best guarantee of making women’s health a priority, and ending the barbaric practices to which the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) alludes, is making sure women are actively involved, and listened to, in the political process. In what ways is the Department working with women’s organisations and democracy-building organisations to support Egyptian women in making sure their voices are heard?

The hon. Lady makes a very important point. I hope she recognises that the Department has put girls and women front and centre of everything we do. We want to ensure that girl’s and women’s voices are heard, particularly as we develop our various future programmes, not least post-2015.