Fighting female genital mutilation: one Kurdish village at a time

Published on Today Online, Octber 22, 2012.

TUTAKAL (Iraq) – Amena practised female genital mutilation (FGM) in her remote village in Iraqi Kurdistan for so many years that she struggles to recall how many girls passed through her hands. 

“I couldn’t count them,” said the midwife, sitting in a garden in Tutakal, her hair in a black headscarf and her chin marked by a faded traditional blue tattoo. “Ten children, a hundred children, a thousand children, I just can’t count how many.”

More than a year after lawmakers in Iraq’s self-governed Kurdistan region passed a law banning FGM – also known as female circumcision – activists say the practice still goes on … //

… In Tutakal, the donation of basic school services and a small classroom by a German-funded non-governmental organisation called WADI has helped convince residents to stop the practice.

It is a promising model, activists involved in the campaign to stop FGM say – one they hope will spread to other Kurdish villages.

The activists work to convince villagers that the practice has no basis in Islam and spread the word that it is now against the law.

“More people understand this is a crime and they can’t practice it anymore, but we still need to implement the law,” said Mr Suaad Sharif, a field worker with WADI. “They say their grandmothers did it, their mothers did it, it was a habit that they had to carry on.”

According to the World Health Organization, FGM – the partial or total removal of external female genitalia – is practised in countries across Africa and in Asia and the Middle East for cultural, religious and social reasons.

Some practitioners believe FGM will prevent sex before marriage and promiscuity; others say it is part of preparing a girl for womanhood and is hygienic.

It can cause bleeding, shock, cysts and infertility but also severe psychological effects which campaigners say is similar to those suffered by rape victims.

As many as 40 per cent of women and girls in Kurdistan have been subjected to the procedure, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch, citing government reports and activists.

A survey by WADI found that up to 70 per cent of women had suffered from FGM in some Kurdish areas. (full text).

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