Tackling Female Genital Mutilation in the Kurdistan Region

Sofia Barbarani

By Sofia Barbarani:

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is defined by the Word Health Organization (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”. It is a practice rooted in flimsy accounts of religious traditions, mythical beliefs, and purely aesthetic reasons and is recognised internationally as a form of violence against women. FGM often leads to long-term physical and psychological problems, as well as death.

Whilst new reports released by the UN point to fewer girls being subjected to FGM, the numbers are still alarmingly high. WHO estimates that between 100 and 140 million girls and women worldwide have been subjected to FGM.

In a symbolic move, the practice was banned on 20 December 2012, following a unanimous resolution at the UN General Assembly, whilst the 6 of February marked the International Day for Zero Tolerance of FGM.

Often considered a uniquely African problem, so much so that stats and figures of FGM in other areas of the world are not easily found, it is also practiced in the West, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. In the Middle East, the rates of FGM are highest in Northern Saudi Arabia, Southern Jordan and Iraq, including the Kurdish region.

A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report concluded that as many as 40 percent of women and girls in Kurdistan have been subjected to female genital mutilation.

Despite the implementation of the Family Violence Law in August 2011, which includes several steps towards the eradication of FGM, HRW has found that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is yet to take defining steps in implementing this law. Whilst domestic violence is being tackled head-on through awareness campaigns and the training of judges and police, the same steps appear not to have been taken to implement the FGM ban, reports HRW.

Last year, Joe Stork (the deputy Middle East director at HRW) acknowledged the progress made by the KRG in passing the Family Violence Law, yet stressed the need to start an immediate implementation of it. Whilst on the International Day for Zero Tolerance, the UN called on the government of Iraq and the KRG to take additional steps to eradicate this brutal practice.

The difficulties have lain in raising the subject matter and giving a voice to the victims. In a traditional society like the Kurdish one, speaking of a girl or woman’s genitalia (often associated with sexual function and sexual pleasure) is not an easy task.

A more heartening result comes in the guise of German-Iraqi NGO WADI, an organisation which has been combating violence against women in Iraqi Kurdistan since 1993. In a recent study carried out by them, there appears to be evidence for a trend of general decline of FGM. According to their research, less than 50 percent of young girls are being mutilated today.

Following the organisation’s FGM-Free Communities programme, seven villages in the Kurdish region began their battles against the practice. According to WADI, not a single case of FGM has happened in these villages since. Villages who join the network and publicly commit themselves to stopping FGM receive small community projects, which they are free to choose.

WADI stresses the importance behind educating and alerting the villagers to the health and psychological risks of FGM. Midwifes also play an important role as practitioners, and they also must be convinced of the harm they are doing to the village’s girls if they are to stop. To further support women who have undergone the procedure, WADI launched an FGM Hotline project, through which FGM victims are provided with social, psychological, medical and sexual advice.

Today the Kurdistan Region is leading the fight against FGM in Iraq. This is due primarily to a handful of local women and organisations, such as WADI, which have taken the time to educate men and women on the risks of FGM.

As Kurdistan struggles under the weight of an unwavering tribal system, women’s rights are often disregarded due to pressure from tribal leaders and clerics. Regardless, if the KRG is to take its rightful place as a democracy amidst authoritarian regimes, it must regard issues such as FGM of utmost importance.

Sofia Barbarani is a London-based freelance writer, with an MA in Middle East and Mediterranean Studies, King’s College London. Her main focus is Jewish-Israeli identity and the Kurdistan Region.

Copyright © 2013 Kurdistantribune.com


24 Responses to Tackling Female Genital Mutilation in the Kurdistan Region
  1. Ari Ali
    March 4, 2013 | 10:30

    This topic done to death ! Google can provide access to hundreds of articles over the last several years . Not that i agree to this practice , but we must change our tribal system , is that the bottom line after a lengthy essay? !

    • havel
      March 5, 2013 | 12:06

      “Done to death” … an unfortunate reference to the topic since this is sometimes exactly the result of this barbarous, and alas still widespread, practice. Thanks for the good article Sofia.

      • Sofia Barbarani
        March 5, 2013 | 23:15

        Thank you, Havel.

    • Sofia Barbarani
      March 5, 2013 | 23:15

      It’s not the only bottom line, but it is certainly an important one. As you will have noticed, this is a very brief overview of the issue. It needs more in-depth research which I hope to carry out when I’m in Kurdistan. On another note, I think it would be wrong (not to mention dangerous) to stop talking about something because it has been ‘done to death’.

      • Ari Ali
        March 6, 2013 | 19:46

        To be honest am disappointed from your logic and reasoning ! people have different values and believes that does not fit well with the western ”pseudo” values , caucasians capitalists way of controlling others . Animal rights vs human rights and so forth .

        Now female circumcision is wrong . You want to tackle go and do investigative work ( journalistic) or a small project ( academic ) t explore the issue . Am pretty sure you will find a ”charity” to support either cause , if you fail to get fund from oil money . Thus you search for the truth and put your views for the way forward ! prosing lengthy essay from your causy seat in London virtually have no impact particularly when you come to unrealistic conclusion such as changing social systems !

        Why you guys western fans do not write about negative phenomena in Europe for instance : elderly misery ( living lonely depressed and dementic sometimes from hunger and thirst in a rest home , homelessness and poverty , individualism callousness and coldness with regards to human interaction , social inequality etc. Thanks KT

        • Sofia Barbarani
          March 7, 2013 | 13:41

          Ari, You seem to think mine was a criticism, when actually I made it very clear that Kurdistan is leading the fight against FGM. I’m unsure as to why your reaction is so defensive. May I ask how you would alter the status quo, if not through (albeit gradual) social change?

        • Sofia Barbarani
          March 7, 2013 | 13:46

          On another note, the European problems you mention are being talked about – all you need to do is pick up a newspaper from Italy, Spain etc and you will find these stories.

      • Ziryan Kamal
        July 2, 2014 | 11:27

        Dear Sofia

        I am holding a open forum/Panel on the 13th July.

        Please contact me so I can give you more information.

  2. Hera
    March 5, 2013 | 21:30

    It is not really mentioned here that some mullahs demand FGM as a divine duty. We cannot tolerate this, religion is not an excuse for such atrocities. Kurds want to belong to the civilized world! We need more such villages to fight FGM.

    • Sofia Barbarani
      March 7, 2013 | 13:43

      Hera, I agree and briefly mention religion in the opening paragraph. I did, however, want to concentrate more on the positive steps that are being taken to tackle the problem. I think it’s important to keep these in mind too.

  3. Suleiman
    March 7, 2013 | 11:08

    This issue was covered in a previous article a few months ago, but I commend Sofia for her efforts again.
    A few things here:
    1) this practice is not as common in Kurdistan as some want to make it look. If it is, then it will be in some distant villages far away from cities. I have yet to hear one single case of Female circumcision in Kurdistan. I am not saying it doesn’t happen, but if it was so common trust me people would be talking about it. And this talk mostly comes from people living abroad.
    2) female circumcision has nothing to do with religion, even if an ignorant mullah advocates, or a reader who despises religion wants to just label it on religion.
    3) it seems like KT has lately become just a forum for either female circumcision or Turkey and PKK. Aren’t there other pressing issues as well. We are tired of reading about the same events.
    Why not talk about child labor in Kurdistan? That is way more common and devastating than some of the other topics.
    Again, I still respect the author here for her great effort.

    • Sofia Barbarani
      March 7, 2013 | 18:58

      Suleiman, you’re absolutely right regarding religion. It’s just being used as the tool to sell FGM to the masses. It has no root in Islam. It is not as common in Iraq as it is in some African countries, but I felt that even a few cases warrant coverage. Do you have good sources/readings re child labour in Kurdistan? I’d be interested to look into it.

      • Ari Ali
        March 7, 2013 | 21:30

        Sofia ,

        you really have to reflect on readers comments rather than bombarding us with unhelpful replies . What have you written is an opinion based on half facts and half fictions . Your piece is at worst neither journalism nor academia and at best it maybe a sort of feminism . All what one conclude is that you can write in english .

        My sincere advise to you Pause reflect and listen to readers feedback !

        • havel
          March 7, 2013 | 21:50

          Ari, you seem pretty disgruntled but you really have to try to be less patronising (to the point of being offensive). Reflect on that perhaps.

        • Sofia Barbarani
          March 7, 2013 | 23:01

          Ari, I see what you’re saying. I do make a point of taking on constructive criticism – yours, however, hasn’t been particularly constructive, just very rude. In fact, I’m still unsure as to what you’re trying to argue. This is a two-way conversation, hence the replies, whether they are helpful or not is another matter. I wasn’t aiming for a piece of journalism, but (as I’ve said before) a brief overview of a complex situation. I am also not sure what you mean by ‘some sort of feminism’ – are you suggesting FGM is a ‘feminist’ issue?

  4. Suleiman
    March 8, 2013 | 02:02

    Dear Ari: you need to tune it down a bit. Easy on Sofi. She put in the effort.
    Sofi: you admitted yourself that this act of female circumvision is not as common in Iraq as it is in other parts of the country. Therefore: let’s talk about the things that are common in Iraq and Kurdistan: we all know minor labor is very common and very obvious. Just take a camera to any major city market in Iraq/Kurdistan and you will spot hundreds of children selling on the streets and doing work a lot older than their age. One more issue is the spread of drug use among the teenagers. How about prominence of HIV and other infectious disease mostly transmitted from the foreign people.

    You want more ideas?? How about social injustice, how about the miserable education system, to name a few of these issues.

    There are many things to write about.

  5. Suleiman
    March 8, 2013 | 02:08

    I would like to make an appeal to KT:
    There was a time when we saw a lot more exciting writing regarding Iraqi Kurdistan. There was focus on social and political corruption. There were articles on the daily political issues of Iraqi Kurdistan. Nowadays all we hear about is Turkey, PKK, Ocalan, and Ardogan. Can we please diversify things? It’s getting boring. Anytime I open this page, there is got to be something about Northern Kurdistan. We need more diversity

    • Ari Ali
      March 8, 2013 | 12:34

      Well KT has joined the bandwagen and started to flogg issues like FGM mixing a liitle bit of truth with alot of fiction ! maybe oil money has reached the editorial room who knows ?

  6. Editor
    March 8, 2013 | 18:00

    From a total of more than 900 articles pubIished by KT so far, there have been just 3 articles on the subject of FGM. We make no apologies for publishing them and we will probably publish more on the subject in future. We take all issues relating to women’s rights in Kurdistan very seriously.
    Of course we also welcome other articles on all kinds of vital topics, including child labour… Dear readers, please keep writing!

    • Ari Ali
      March 8, 2013 | 19:09

      Having lived long in GB i learned to be very rude and irritating ! The comment was light hearted. KT we like you.

  7. Aram A Rasheed
    March 24, 2013 | 23:41

    It’s disgusts me when I see people write particular paper spends lots of time and research to make a good standard, but it turns out to be the most ugliest and shameful topic that they wrote about ; are you try prsaude me this the only problem we have in the Kurdish society ? Or you and you agnder try to change our society to be more like westerner society where racism ,prositution,inequality ,cropution , economic crises and lots more majore problem but we don’t see it on tv or other media
    On the other hand you have wrote this because it has something with Islam and trying to make a bad image of Islam where more than 95/ of Kurdish individual believing in this religion
    Why didnt you write about malaria disease in Kurdistan ,how about legal system
    This isn’t the way to move or encourage kurdish society to step up forward , why can’t you research in field of technogy,medical research ,culture ,nature of Kurdistan
    There are counter less topic you could have picked but you and your people in background always trying to get younge people and kurdish society to a wrong direction !!!!

    • havel
      March 26, 2013 | 22:22

      I find your bigotry pretty disgusting, Aram. Why are some (mostly) men so challenged by ANY discussion of this issue?? Please keep writing, Sofia.

      • Sofia Barbarani
        April 13, 2013 | 08:00

        I absolutely will. Thanks, Havel.

  8. […] up^ Tackling Female Genital Mutilation in the Kurdistan Region Sofia Barbarani, The Kurdistan Tribune (March 4, […]

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