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By Heba Kanso
BEIRUT, Aug 9 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Musicians in Egypt are using their voices and instruments to fight against early child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM), which remains widespread two years after it was made a criminal offence.
Next week, Egyptian bands will tour the country as part of a United Nations project aimed at raising awareness among young people of the dangers of early child marriage and FGM.
"The culture has to change, which is why we are trying to reach people through music - they can interact with the songs and really listen to the words," said musician Adham El Habashy.
"Being a man and saying this message can wake up other men that have misogynistic attitudes. Maybe men will ask more questions about why this is wrong," the 34-year-old told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Cairo.
His band El Mena has a song about child marriage that tries to give hope to victims as well as educating people about the wrongs of the practice.
Child marriage is banned in Egypt, but around 17 percent of girls are wed by their 18th birthday and 2 percent before they reach 15.
Genital cutting of girls was banned in Egypt in 2008 and criminalised in 2016, but the practice persists and is often viewed as a way to promote chastity.
About 87 percent of women and girls aged 15 to 49 have been cut, according to U.N. data, making Egypt the country with the highest number of women in the world to have undergone FGM.
The U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), which is organising the Music for Development project, said music was an effective way to target young people in Egypt, where 62 percent of the population is under 29.
"These young people are future parents," said Aleksandar Bodiroza, the UNFPA representative in Egypt.
"We want them to know their rights based on family planning, and why it's so critical to abandon FGM, and why it's so important not marry off their daughters early."
The project, funded by the Swiss Embassy in Egypt, launched with a concert last month and the bands go on tour on August 17.
Singer Sahar Elzoghbi said audience members had joined in with the last line of her song about breaking the circle of misery caused by FGM and early marriage.
"It was really so amazing - it felt like people understood the song," she said.
(Reporting by Heba Kanso @hebakanso, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)
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