The campaign against FGM in the Middle East & Asia is two years old now, we just published our second annual report and we are amazed how much can be done with so little ressources. Our aim was to get the message out that female genital mutilation exists not only in Africa, but also in many countries in the Middle East and Asia. Our second goal was to bring together activists against FGM from different Asian countries and support their activities.
A network of activists from Oman, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, India, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia has been formed. We are able to support a number of small activities in different countries. Last but not least: no one can ignore the fact that FGM exists in Asia anymore.
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.
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 and 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.
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. While in communities where FGM is practiced a mix of motivations ranging from myths, preserving a girl’s chastity to religion may be found, the one reason which often keeps them from stopping it often turns out to be religion. 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. Therefore we collect Fatwas against FGM.
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