Combating Female Circumcision in Iraqi
By Azeez Mahmoud in Sulaimaniyah, Kurdistan region (ICR
No. 291, 3-June-09)
Activist describes challenges facing those trying to
end the controversial practice in Iraqi Kurdistan.
June 4, 2009
SULAIMANIYAH, Kurdistan region 'Iraq', —
I became an activist to stop female genital
mutilation last year after reading a shocking survey
from a secondary school in Rania, a town in
Sulaimaniyah province. Every single one of the girls
in the school reported that their genitals had been
Female genital mutilation is an epidemic in northern
Iraq, particularly in remote and rural areas. In
villages, it is a common practice frequently carried
out in unsanitary conditions by women without
medical training. They slice the clitoris of a young
spreading ashes on the
cut to numb the pain.
Kurdish government prepares to ban female
circumcision (Xetene in Kurdish).
Through my work with
Wadi, an international rights organisation
campaigning against the practice in Iraqi Kurdistan,
I have travelled to 84 towns and villages to raise
awareness about the harmful effects of female
Wadi estimates that more than 60 per cent of women
in Iraqi Kurdistan have been circumcised. The
highest rates are in Grmyan, a mostly rural region
that runs along the Iranian border.
The practice pre-dates Islam yet is defended as a
cultural and religious tradition, a type of Islamic
But I believe that female genital mutilation is the
same as any other type of physical violence against
women, and that it leaves lifelong psychological
I visit the villages three times a week to raise
awareness about the practice, and constantly hear
horror stories from the women I meet.
One 30-year-old woman told me that, at the age of
eight, she and her nine friends were lured to a
house from where they were told they would be taken
The woman said the girls were instead grabbed by
other women from the village,www.ekurd.net
their mouths stuffed
with cloths so their screams could not be heard. She
said they were taken to an elderly lady who, her
hands shaking, cut them with a dirty razor.
The woman who recounted the story said she refuses
to circumcise her girls, but convincing others to
stop the practice is not easy.
While younger women are vocal in their opposition to
older ones have told us we are spreading immorality
and defaming Islam.
Women are circumcised in the name of Islam, even
though the practice is not sanctioned by the
religion. Village lore says that food prepared by
women who are not circumcised is not Halal because
they have not followed Islam.
A documentary we show to women in villages includes
two mullahs who state that the practice is not
Islamic; and a doctor who speaks of the health
problems it can cause.
Once taboo to discuss, female genital mutilation is
increasingly aired publicly after the local press
began covering the issue. In addition to Wadi’s work
on the ground in villages, a television advertising
campaign has also helped raise awareness.
But lawmakers have been hesitant to debate the issue
in parliament, stalling legislation that would make
female circumcision a crime.
Under the proposed law, those found guilty of
carrying out the practice would face between six to
15 years in prison and a fine. The parents of the
victim could also face prosecution.
Foreign organisations such as Wadi are taking the
lead against female circumcision, but it is
difficult to persuade a majority-Muslim community to
stop a practice seen as a religious ritual.
It is important for the parliament to pass
legislation punishing those who circumcise women.
The proposed law has not moved forward, even though
14,000 people signed a letter supporting a ban on
The government could also push religious leaders and
the ministries of health and education to raise
Mobilising public opinion against female genital
mutilation will have an even bigger impact than
legislation. Unless the public’s mindset about the
issue changes, a new law will achieve little.
Azeez Mahmoud, an IWPR-trained journalist, helps
Wadi’s mobile teams educate women about female
genital mutilation. She is based in Sulaimaniyah.
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