Egypt criminalized all forms of FGM in 2008 and rights monitors say the number of girls undergoing the operation has dropped by about one third.
But Nehad Abud Komsan, director of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, said the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood and more conservative Salafist politicians threaten those gains.
“They come to say ‘we may have a law to make it [legal] in a certain condition, or to say it is good for protection. They are destroying years of efforts to protect girls and women in Egypt and, unfortunately, by using religion,” said Komsan.
A global campaign to eradicate female genital mutilation [FGM], often misnamed “female circumcision,” continues. While foreign NGOs have made Iraqi Kurdistan a center of the effort to do away with this practice, many observers have argued that it is not a “Kurdish” problem.
FGM is also not just a “Muslim” phenomenon. However widespread it may be among Iraqi Sunni Kurds, its acceptance in Islam is limited. According to the German relief organization WADI [The Association for Crisis Assistance and Development Co-operation], in the four provinces of Iraqi Kurdistan, only the farthest north, Dohuk, which borders on Turkey, shows little evidence of FGM at any age. Among the remaining three “governorates,” in the province of Erbil, named for the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), 63% of women have undergone the atrocious custom; in Suleymaniya, 78%; and in Garmyan/New Kirkuk, the southernmost, 81%.
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Tunesia’s ruling Ennahda party has its FGM scandal. MP Habib Ellouze allegedly said: “In the (African) regions where it is hot, people are forced to circumcise girls … because in these regions clitorises are too big which affects the spouses,” and “There are more circumcisions but it is not true that circumcision removes the pleasure for women. It is the West that has exaggerated the issue. Circumcision is an aesthetic surgery for women.”
Last year Egyptian preacher Wagdy Ghoneim caused an outcry when he recommended FGM during his Tunesia trip. Ennahda distanced itself from the Islamist who meanwhile also called on Muslims to kill the opponents of Mursi.
In a recent fatwa a certain Sheikh Al-Hajji Al-Kurdi from the Saudi Ministry of Awqaf & Islamic Affairs endorsed female genital mutilation in its “sunna” form which stipulates the cutting of the clitoris prepuce. He distinguished this allowed “Islamic circumcision” from forbidden “Pharaonic circumcisions”.
On the ground, however, it is common opinion that “sunna circumcision” includes the cutting of the clitoris.
A fatwa like this one raises serious questions about the prevalence of FGM in Saudi Arabia.
Latest data collected by Wadi’s teams in Raniya/Qaladiza and Garmyan (Iraqi Kurdistan) where WADI has been raising awareness for years indicate that the FGM rate has dropped considerably.
The Raniya/Qaladiza area is known for its extremely conservative and traditional way of life. It used to be a FGM stronghold: Raniya holds 95,5% and Qaladiza 97,4% FGM prevalence among women above the age of 14.* Now the rate among girls under 14 years was found to be 50.7% (sample size: 1599).
In Garmyan the overall FGM rate is 81.2%*. Recently it was found to be 21.3% among girls under 14 years of age (sample size: 970).
These numbers are encouraging! They show that while the Middle East is changing profoundly people are ready to rethink old traditions and adopt to modern standards in a strikingly short period of time. There seems to be a new spirit in the air which hopefully will allow us to eradicate FGM much faster here than in Africa.
*According to Wadi’s comprehensive region-wide study conducted in 2009, see http://stopfgmkurdistan.org/html/english/fgm_study.htm
By Arvid Vormann
According to a large survey conducted in 2009, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is prevalent in all provinces of Kurdish Northern Iraq, except in the far northern Duhok region. More than 72% are affected, in villages and cities alike, among illiterates and, to a lesser extent, among academics. FGM is almost everywhere.
The area, heavily struck by Saddam’s genocidal poison gas attacks in the late 80s, by civil war in the 90s, and threatened by Saddam’s army and Islamic groups until 2003, is also marked by very high rates of honor killings, domestic violence, forced marriages and other gender-related crimes. Mobile health teams of the German-Iraqi relief organization Wadi first reported the existence of FGM in 2004. After the toppling of Saddam Hussein, time seemed to be ripe. The first few women started to talk about all the pain and agony caused by the physical and psychological consequences of the mutilations forced on them as little girls. Since then, democracy and freedom of the press, despite all their immense shortcomings in this autonomous region, have laid ground for a successful public campaign against FGM. “Stop FGM in Kurdistan” was a grass root initiative – something hitherto unheard of, as usually everything is controlled from above. The feedback was overwhelming. Human Rights Watch further promoted the cause.Nowadays
Press Release by HIVOS and WADI
The Hague, Suleimania 5 February, The 6th of February was introduced by the United Nations as The International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Since then public awareness worldwide has grown. In a time when women’s rights and violence against women are discussed more than ever before, especially in the Middle East, Hivos and WADI – frontrunners in the battle against FGM – call upon the Secretary General and the General Assembly of the United Nations to step up efforts to end this practice.
Currently one hundred and forty million girls and women are estimated to have undergone an FGM procedure. This is a very large and deplorable number, albeit an estimation mainly focusing on Africa. Considering growing evidence which proves that FGM is not only an ‘African problem’ but also widespread in various parts of Asia including the Middle East, a much higher number may be closer to the truth.
Time to act NOW
On the international level the passing of a resolution calling for a ban on FGM by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2012 was a milestone. Although the resolution is not legally binding, it will enhance the moral and political incentive for governments to act on FGM. And it will encourage activists worldwide to speak out against a fatal ‘tradition’.
It is time to act now. And to ask a question: In 2003 the United Nations proclaimed the imperative of eliminating female genital mutilation. However, so far no action has been taken by the UN bodies to stop FGM in the Middle East. Why, for instance, have they not become active in Iraq, yet? What is done in Yemen where FGM levels in some regions are known to reach 50 percent?
The Indonesian Ministry of Health is still refusing to ban FGM. Minister Nafsiah is trying to protect herself from criticism by asserting that “female circumcision did not cause any negative side effects if the clitoris isn’t cut”. This is (a) a bold statement for which she has no prove, and (b) nobody can guarantee that the clitoris isn’t cut, since “Our medical officers have never been trained to perform female circumcision.”
In fact, this is a universal pattern, also labeled “sunnah” circumcision: Purported restrictions to the operation only serve to legitimize the operation as such. Then on the ground the girls are made to feel the difference between promise and reality. What is called “sunnah” in the book means cutting of the clitoris in reality.
Finally, when this practice is criticized religious figures may assert that it is not done according to the teachings. Nice strategy. Proving that NO form of FGM whatsoever must ever be allowed.
Mae Azango is a heroic and courageous fighter against female genital mutilation. In her home country Liberia she is now facing death threats for having unveiled the truth about this heinous practice. This was the article that led the president to respond to the issue. However, FGM is still legal in Liberia. Recently, the president said, “to hastily abolish the practice could spark off a serious societal crisis”.
We should learn this expression. Between 86 and 100% of girls fall victim to Sunat Perempuan – FGM – in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country. More than 90% of adults say they want the practice to continue.
“FGM in Indonesia is laden with superstition and confusion. A common myth is that it is largely “symbolic”, involving no genital damage.” Read more.