Listen to the BBC Radio feature: Kurdistan’s success in stemming Female Genital Mutilation
Today Guardian Films present a short version of a co-production with the BBC about the decade long fight against female genital mutilation (FGM) in Iraqi-Kurdistan. The BBC-Guardian team has followed two filmmakers who spend almost a decade reporting the greatest taboo subject in Kurdish society. Nabaz Ahmed and Shara Amin persuaded people to talk about the effects of FGM. Their film became an important tool in a capmpaign the grassroots organisation WADI launched to combat FGM and get the practice outlawed in 2011. Latest figures by WADI show that in some regions Of Iraqi-Kurdistan the number of girls being mutilated has fallen by over 60% in the last few years.
In several Iraqi Kurdish regions female genital mutilation (FGM) has declined significantly within a decade.
During the last six months, the Iraqi-German NGO Wadi has collected data on the prevalence of female genital mutilation in the areas of Suleimaniyah, Halabja, Raniya, Goptata and Garmyan. Having discovered in 2004 that FGM was practiced widely, Wadi’s mobile teams developed a village-by-village approach in their campaign to raise awareness among women about the medical and psychological consequences of the practice.
The new data is based on interviews with 5,000 women and girls and indicates that this approach has led to a steep decrease in the practice. While 66 – 99% of women aged 25 and older were found to be mutilated, the percentage in the pertinent age group 6 – 10 was close to zero in Halabja and Garmyan. In both areas FGM was previously practiced widely and where the awareness campaign began first. In Suleimaniyah the rate of mutilation among 6-10 years old girls is at 11%, in Goptapa 21% and in Raniya – Wadi’s most recent operation area where the rate used to be close to 100% – has now dropped to 48%. The usual age for the cuttings is between 4 and 8 years in this region.
The first clinic in Europe specialized in providing treatment to women subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) opened doors in the German capital Berlin on Wednesday.
Local media reported that the patron of the project for the Desert Flower Center is Waris Dirie, the Somalia-born former supermodel and one-time Bond girl who has become one of the world’s most prominent campaigners against FGM.
Female genital mutilation is widely considered as a human rights violation of worldwide concern. It has been defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”
The self-reported prevalence of female genital mutilation was 70.3%, while it was 58.6% according to clinical examination of the women’s genitalia. The most common type of female genital mutilation was type I (99.6%) and the most common age at which mutilation was performed was 4–7 years (60.2%). This practice was mostly performed by traditional birth attendants (72.5%). Only 6.4% of mutilated women reported having complications after mutilation, most commonly bleeding (3.6%). The practice was more reported among housewives (OR = 3.3), those women whose mothers were mutilated (OR = 15.1) or with unknown mutilation status (OR = 7.3) and those women whose fathers were illiterate (OR = 1.4) or could only read and write (OR = 1.6). The common reasons for practicing female genital mutilation were cultural tradition (46.7%) and dictate of religion (38.9%). Only 30% of the participants were aware about the health consequences of female genital mutilation. More than one third (36.6%) of the women support the practice and 34.5% have intention to mutilate their daughters.
A new study on FGM in Iraqi Kurdistan produced by several Kurdish medical scientists in cooperation with the KRG Ministry of Health appears largely consistent with Wadi’s findings from 2008. Investigating on its own initiative, the Kurdish government now seems to be truly willing to take concrete steps and play a positive role in the fight against the practice.
Among females from 6 months to 20 years of age the study detected an overall prevalence of 23%; however it has to be taken into account that (a) the study included Duhok province which is known for its low prevalence rate, and (b) the age group is restricted to young women and girls and even includes babies.
The study reported an FGM rate of 37% among girls in Erbil and 29% in Suleimaniah province. Wadi in 2008 found 57% in Erbil and 59% in Suleimaniyah among girls aged 14-19. These differences are not surprising considering the facts that
(a) the new study includes babies and small girls which may become genitally mutilated later,
(b) it excludes women above the age of 20 (with growing age there is a sharp rise in prevalence)
(c) in recent years there is growing awareness among people and Wadi observed a rapid downward trend in some areas,
(d) meanwhile FGM has been legally banned and become a punishable crime. It was observed in various African countries that under such conditions people are more likely to conceal the practice, especially when they are asked to report on their daughters for which they (at least in theory) could be hold accountable.
The authors did not outline why they restricted the age group as they did. Anyway, these kind of surveys can be an excellent tool to map the recent trend and should be repeated at least every two years to keep track on the latest developments.
The British MP Gary Kent has traveled again to Iraqi-Kurdistan and recently wrote an article about progress made there. He also spoke with Pachschan Zangana, today member of the High Council of Women Affairs, some years ago parliamentarian of the Kurdish Communist party who helped to adress the issue of Female Genitale Mutliation in Iraqi-Kurdistan.
She mentions a recent study done in a region WADI is working since 2005 to decrease FGM, although the numbers a bit more sobering:
On women’s rights, Kurdistan is still part of the Middle East which is a man’s world. I remember the shock among Kurdish leaders when it became clear that FGM was more widespread than previously thought although it is difficult to specify its scale. (…) The KRG leadership has criminalised FGM and been working with Imams to undermine it culturally. Pakshan cites one area where its incidence has been reduced from 86 to 5%. She praises improved police training on domestic violence.
But these numbers are showing, if serious attempts are done, one can end this terrible practice within a decade.
In certain African regions FGM is supported also by Christian clerics. Here an example from Ghana. Bishop Akwasi Sarpong, taking a culture-relativistic stand, claimed FGM “although rejected by other societies, serves a purpose in certain African societies.” We have been waiting for a clear message from the vatican regarding this issue since many years already.