It still happens that someone says: „Oh, but female genital mutilation, that is an African practice.“ But it doesn’t happen all the time anymore.
Most media reports on female genital mutilation (FGM) today state that it exists in Africa and the Middle East. And quite a few mention Southeast Asia. Several non-governmental organizations working on FGM have changed their maps highlighting countries in Asia where the practice is common. The United Nations are aware of it and are planning to conduct large scale studies: Questions about FGM will be included in regular domestic household surveys or MICS (multiple indicator cluster survey), the first new place where this will happen is Oman.
Only a little more than one year ago, it looked quite different. When the campaign “Stop FGM Middle East” started working in the summer of 2013 it was still met with disbelief and misunderstanding: Middle East? Oh, you mean Egypt.
It was our aim to change this and we knew how difficult this could be.
Ten years ago, the Iraqi-German NGO Wadi and co-founder of the Stop FGM Middle East campaign, started a campaign against FGM in the Kurdish region of Iraq. While it is always difficult to convince people who defend a tradition, it turned out that it could be just as difficult to convince the international community that a problem exists where no one expected it.
But we also knew that change is possible. Today, the practice has been outlawed in Northern Iraq, an awareness campaign by WADI is supported by the Kurdish Regional Government und Unicef. FGM rates have been dropping rapidly in regions targeted by the campaign.
In other countries in the Middle East and Asia, the struggle against FGM is still at a starting point. Through continuous research we can draw a vast map now including Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, India, the Maledives, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Oman, the U.A.E.
If the UN estimates that up to 140 million girls and women worldwide are effected by FGM basing this number on data from Africa, Yemen and Iraq, then we must correct this, even if the assumption is shocking: It is very possible that it is double this amount.
The Stop FGM Middle East campaign also managed to connect activists from different countries in Asia with the aim of building a strong network against FGM reaching from the Arabian peninsula to Malaysia and Indonesia.
One of the campaign’s focal points since the start has been religion. While FGM is not related to religion everywhere it exists, all evidence in Asia points to a strong connection between Islam and FGM. People who insist on mutilating their daughters do so because they belief it is an Islamic deed, sometimes even affirming that a women is not a Muslims if uncut. Often they point to their local Mullah who has taught them this.
We realized early on that it is essential for any campaign against FGM to discuss religion and to find religious leaders who correct the assumption of FGM as an Islamic duty or recommended practice.
Last, but not least, we support local campaigns where activists in the respective countries are ready for it. Obstacles for campaigning are high. Many countries have restrictive policies on activism in general. In all cases extra caution is necessary when taking on religion: even if religious authorities may support the cause Islamists may not.
As a first step to gather support, the existence of FGM must be proven through studies. In some countries, even this is only possible with governmental permission. In the course of the first year, it was possible to conduct a pre-study in Oman finding a prevalence of 78%. A study in Central and Southern Iraq found a prevalence of 25%. A study from Iran will soon be published looking into the effects of FGM on marital relationships and mental health.
In the first yearly report on our work you can read about our activities:
– Advocacy work
– Networking in the region
– Religious debate
– Supporting research
– Local projects
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