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.
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.
Awezan Nuri grew up in Kirkuk, a city outside the KRG, and divided mainly among Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmens. There, the Pana Centre estimates that 38% of the local women have suffered FGM, with the number rising to 65% among Kurds in the region.
The Kirkuk Provincial Council, denying the local frequency of FGM, has rejected these figures. In March 2013 the local English-language newspaper, Kirkuk Now, published a shocking interview with a well-known local “practitioner” of FGM, Pura Gullstan, now in her mid-60s. Gullstan stated, “I perform female genital mutilation on women daily, in all the age groups; I performed FGM on a 25-year-old woman last week.”
Kirkuk Now pointed out that the frequency with which Gullstan claimed to implement FGM suggests that the rate with which the savage custom is forced on young woman may be higher than that charged by the Pana Centre. “I am the saviour of the honour of women and girls,” Gullstan declared. “Some of the women and girls hate me as I perform FGM on them, but as their pain fades away, or they get older, they begin to praise me.”
Iraqi Kurdistan also resembles Egypt in that FGM is not limited to Muslim women. According to Kirkuk Now, “other ethnicities as well as religious groups prefer female genital mutilation.”
The Pana Centre has appealed to the Iraqi central government in Baghdad for a national regulation against FGM.
We just got an excited phone-call from Sarhad Ajeb. He is the anjuman (major) of Tutakhal, one of the free FGM villages WADI helped to set up in Iraqi Kurdistan and maybe even the most famous one, since Reuters and Al Jazeera as well as many local TV station reported from here.
Finally Tutakhal as well as the neighboring villages are connected to the general electricity supply. Ajeb is convinced this happened solely because they joined the Free FGM campaign in 2011 and got so much attention that finally the government reacted.
Since all villages in the region profit from being connected to electricity supply, Ajeb just promised, all of the villagers in Tutakhal will now step up efforts to convince their neighbors to stop FGM too.
Sarhad Ajeb, lobbying against Female Genital Mutilation on a February 6th event in Suleymaniah
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.