FGM in Iraq: More research needed after succesful campaign in Kurdistan led to ban of harmful practice
Statement on the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation Febuary 6th 2023
Frankfurt and Suleymaniah, February 5th 2023
On the occasion of the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Wadi is highlighting the gaps in FGM data in central and southern Iraq as well as the unfortunately small resources being spent to end the practice in the Middle East and Asia, and calling on a change.
When Wadi began its anti-FGM work in 2005 the essential first step was to collect accurate data on the prevalence of the practice in the different regions in Kurdistan. Without reliable data there would be no sense of the scope and depth of the problem, and no way to compare the effects of our efforts in the future. In 2007 Wadi began petitioning UNICEF/UNFPA to add Kurdistan to the areas where FGM is practiced, this led to a long process that ended in 2012 when it was finally added to the list. Since that time, Wadi has continued to push for FGM to no longer be thought of as an ‘African’ problem on the international level, with our ‘STOP FGM MIDDLE EAST & ASIA’ campaign.
As part of this campaign Wadi was asking for research to be conducted in central and southern Iraq. In 2011 UNAMI Baghdad conducted the ‘MICS4 survey for Iraq and the quest for FGM in the Middle East’ which you can read in full here, but in a nutshell the report states that the FGM rates in Baghdad were close to zero and that high rates of FGM were only in Kurdish areas. The findings intrigued Wadi’s research teams, as there was some data that made them question the accuracy of the findings. In an open letter by Wadi to UNAMI Baghdad in response to these findings their issues were fleshed out point by point, you can read it here. This was followed in 2018 by another MICS study, which came to largely comparable conclusions.
Today, we must conclude that these reports have permanently set the international standard. Since then, no one has addressed the issue of FGM in central and southern Iraq. Wadi is asking for fresh research to be conducted urgently. It seems highly unlikely that the prevalence for FGM is zero for the entire region considering its vastness, ethnic and religious diversity. When we talk about FGM in the Middle East our experience in the past (almost) 20 years tells us that you ask the right questions, this is a highly sensitive taboo topic that people don’t immediately open up about. Uncovering the existence of FGM is not a neutral act, in Oman and Iran uncovering the existence of FGM has been a fraught and at times dangerous process. But If you think of the millions of young girls’ futures who could be positively impacted by the banning of the practice, you can understand the urgency.
We need new, better data, and we need it now. We need to fund and promote programs in the Middle East and Asia where millions of girls are at risk. We need the global community to act.
Wadi also wanted to take a moment to shine a light on the excellent work that our ‘STOP FGM’ teams are doing in Kurdistan, as well as share the new directions that our anti-FGM work is taking this year.
Our ‘STOP FGM’ teams are staffed with well trained women social workers who for the past year have visited villages and areas where the rate of FGM practice continues to be high. The teams operating in Erbil and Ranya have been engaging with communities by sharing documentaries, providing information and holding in depth discussions with women (and men) on the effects that FGM has (or could have) on their or their young girls lives. The teams hold these seminars regularly and build trust with the local community,they work with a holistic approach, not a scolding. Our teams work tirelessly drawing on the short and long term harm of the practice, and sharing the success that areas that have collectively abandoned the practice are seeing. Talking about the ‘FGM Free Villages’ that are proudly part of Wadi’s ‘STOP FGM KURDISTAN’ campaign. These real life examples, help to show that real fundamental societal change is possible.
Women who have been mutilated often share about the ongoing distress and suffering that FGM causes them at these seminars. These conversations inspired the next phase of Wadi’s FGM activities ‘Living with FGM’ the pilot project launched in 2021 works with women in areas that have already abandoned the practice, to support women who are living with FGM. The project is designed around providing safe spaces for women who are participating, the areas that participate have already been working with Wadi for years through the STOP FGM Kurdistan project and agreed to abandon the practice. They are now working with medical and psychosocial experts to find coping strategies in their daily lives as survivors.
We thank the Consulate of the Netherlands in Iraq for supporting these projects.
You find more information about our campaigns against FGM here
On the occasion of the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Wadi will be hosting a conference fpr the press and the interested public in Erbil under the heading of “Eliminating FGM in Kurdistan”.
Suleymaniah, February 4th 2022
Several activists will discuss progress and challenges of the campaign to eradicate FGM and provide latest updates on the situation in Iraqi Kurdistan and Iraq.
Latest numbers give evidence that in Halabja province, FGM is not practiced any more. In 2020, Wadi was able to declare that there were no new FGM cases recorded in Garmyan. So the region could be considered FGM-free. Now the same became true for Halabja. In other regions, there is still work to do, and Wadi’s capacities are limited. Hence, Wadi has been calling on other actors, be it local activist organizations, international organizations or UN bodies, to step in and boost the efforts.
Wadi’s comprehensive campaign against FGM has proven more than once that this practice can be eradicated within a decade, if the campaign is conducted (a) long-term and non-stop, (b) on the ground and face-to-face with each and everyone, including community leaders, in a trustful and cooperative atmosphere, culturally sensitive, but never compromising.
The role of men is crucial. Men have to be included in the campaign and involved in the discussions as much as possible. Sometimes, this can be challenging because FGM is traditionally seen as „women’s matter“. Some men are not even aware of the existence of this practice. An experienced male coordinator will report.
A female colleague will report from Erbil, where FGM is still practiced. Parts of the society in Erbil are more conservative and traditional. They believe FGM should continue because they consider it part of their identity. Strategies to combat FGM must be adapted to the circumstances and mentalities on the ground. The team member will explain details.
Finally, the public will hear about the situation beyond Iraqi Kurdistan, in Central and South Iraq. In contrast to the Kurdish Region, FGM is not legally banned in Iraq, and there are no campaigns and no awareness. More public discussions, media coverage and a campaign for a legal ban are urgently needed.
For more information contact:
03.02.2022 A German aid organization seeks to transfer its experience in the field of combating female genital mutilation FMG from the Iraqi Kurdistan Region to the other parts of Iraq with the aim of eradicating this phenomenon in society and banning it within the framework of the law.
By Kirkuk Now
The experience of the organization in the provinces of Kurdistan Region extends for more than 15 years, during which it succeeded in ending the phenomenon of female circumcision in the areas of Halabja and Garmian.
The new campaign of Wadi in Iraq will start on February 6, 2022, which coincides with the International Day against Female Genital Mutilation FMG, and the doors of the campaign are wide open to any organization or party that wishes to support and participate in the campaign.
Thomas von der Osten-Sacken, Director General of Wadi, told KirkukNow, “The new campaign is to encourage people and society to reject FGM, through two main demands, one of which is a study by the organization and secondly their efforts be transferred to the Iraqi parliament to ban this practice by law.”
Wadi, which means valley in Arabic, Association for crisis Assistance and Development Cooperation, is supporting various projects to empower women and youth in the Middle East since 30 years.
Wadi was founded in the fall of 1991 by various organizations and individuals. The original idea was to found an umbrella organization that coordinates and bundles the activities of various groups and people active in Iraq and Kurdistan.
Its main projects covers rehabilitation for long-term prisoners, literacy programs, education and training for women, public awareness of and fight against domestic violence as well as campaigns against FGM
A previous study conducted by the United Nations UN in 2011 indicated that the rate of female circumcision in northern Kurdistan Region exceeds 44% compared to less than 1% in other Iraqi provinces in the middle and south.
Wadi criticizes this study and calls for a new study because it believes that the “real percentage of female circumcision” appeared in the Kurdistan Region as a result of Wadi’s efforts and continuous work on this issue, while the issue was not raised in the rest of Iraq and the real percentage of that practice remained a secret.
Doubting the numbers
Osten-Sacken told KirkukNow that because of the study conducted by the United Nations, the world has come to believe that female circumcision is practiced in the Kurdistan Region only and that this phenomenon is non-existent or rare in other parts of Iraq, “while things are not like this, the phenomenon of female circumcision is common in Baghdad, Babylon and other parts of Iraq.”
“If circumcision is common only among the Kurds, then why the big number of Kurds living in Baghdad don’t practice female circumcision, as UN study says that the percentage is very low there? So this problem has nothing to do with a particular ethnicity, but rather it is common in all parts of Iraq. ”
The director of the Wadi says that studies conducted by the organization in Dohuk province, whose residents are also Kurds, showed percentage of female circumcision is very low, but there is evidence and information that female circumcision is practiced in Baghdad, Kirkuk, Babil and Khanaqin.
Osten-Sacken hinted UN had earlier considered female genital mutilation a widespread phenomenon in Africa. “It took us seven years to be able to convince the United Nations that this phenomenon also exists in Iraq.”
In 2010, Wadi conducted an extensive study in the Kurdistan Region to find out the rate of female circumcision, which in some areas reached 70%. Two years later, the organization published the results of a study conducted in Kirkuk province.
According to the study conducted in Kirkuk, in which more than a thousand girls and women participated, it was found that the percentage of women and girls who were subjected to FGM reached 38%, the majority of them are Kurds, followed by Arabs and then Turkmens of both sects, Sunni and Shiite, but no cases of FGM were recorded among Christians.
The Northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk, located 238 kilometers north of Baghdad, is an ethnically mixed province for 1,7 million Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmens, Sunnis and Shiites, besides Christians and Kakais. It has long been at the center of disputes between Baghdad and the Erbil.
The results of the study and the information collected in other regions such as Baghdad and Babylon prove that the phenomenon exists in other Iraqi provinces for which Wadi is trying in cooperation with activists, organizations, government and parliament to confront the problem.
In 2005, WADI launched the “Stop Female Genital Mutilation” campaign in the Kurdistan Region and banning this phenomenon within the framework of the law is part of the achievements of that campaign.
According to the law to stop domestic violence, endorsed by the Kurdistan Parliament in 2011, female circumcision is a form of violence punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of up to 10 million dinars.
Wadi launched Stop FMG campaign in Germian, suburbs south of Sulaymaniyah Northern province, and some other areas in 2004. In 2018, only 29 cases were recorded in the the Region.
Germian Region free of FGM now
As per Wadi figures, not a single case of FMG was recorded in Germain in 2019, however, 161 cases were recorded in Erbil and 162 in Ranya, northwest of Sulaymaniyah.
On February 6, 2020, Wadi organization in cooperation with Netherland Consulate arranged a conference on the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FMG in which they announced that Germian region free of FGM.
Chiman Rashid, Director of Wadi projects in Dohuk, believes, “Iraqi society needs preparation and proper ground in order to convince people of the necessity for rejecting female circumcision, for which there is need for discussion and debate with religious figures, families, NGOs and the government, get people confidence and awareness campaigns about the harmful effects of female circumcision.”
There is no law in Iraq that prohibits or encourages female circumcision.
“I have talked to civil society organizations, and they replied the practice is taking place on a large scale in Iraq, but secretly,” said Chiman, who believes that the time has come for FGM to be practically prohibited in other regions of Iraq, similar to the Kurdistan Region.
WADI adopts three strategies in combating FGM: spreading awareness, collecting data and working to eradicate the phenomenon in local communities.
Osten-Sacken says Wadi expects to face the same challenges it had faced in the Kurdistan Region during the transfer of that experience to other regions of Iraq, “but the difference is that we will not start from scratch. The Iraqi media is constantly working on preparing and publishing reports on the fight against female circumcision in the Kurdistan Region, therefore, the issue will not be new to people.”
He hopes their campaign will reach the Iraqi parliament in a short time, and that female genital mutilation will be banned by law, as happened in the Kurdistan Region, and the campaign organizers are looking to ensure that they receive the support of Kurdish representatives in Baghdad at the very least.
Osten-Sacken is not afraid of the influence of the religious backgrounds of the majority of parliamentarians on efforts to ban and criminalize female circumcision, given that the campaign is based on the Islamic Hanafi school of thought, which considers circumcision to be optional and not obligatory, unlike the Shafi’i school.
The Anti-Domestic Violence Law has been sitting on the shelves of the Iraqi parliament for years and has not been approved yet, but the law did not specify any paragraph to prohibit female circumcision, contrary to the law issued in the Kurdistan Region.
Wadi director believes banning the phenomenon of female circumcision by law will have a major role in putting an end to the phenomenon because “people will join the efforts against female circumcision on a larger scale once they know its practice will have legal consequences.
He pointed out that Parliament is the one which will decide whether to add a paragraph on the prohibition of female circumcision to the draft law to combat domestic violence, or to draft and endorse a separate law.
A study by UN in Iraq conducted 2018 indicates over 7% of girls are subjected to FGM and it plans to put an end to this phenomenon by 2030.
Rashid thinks working across Iraq exposes them to many challenges, “because it is the first time that an organization tries to raise an issue that has been kept secret in society for thousands of years, at a time when women not only are not allowed to talk about such sensitive issues, yet even about their social problems.”
“But we want to overcome all obstacles and challenges and implement the project,” she added.
In addition to the new campaign, Wadi projects will continue in the Kurdistan Region, the phenomenon of female circumcision has not been eradicated in many cities, while the second part of the organization’s projects focuses on girls and women who have been subjected to circumcision to help them overcome the post-trauma effects of that practice and restore a normal life.
Wadi has led awareness campaigns about Covid-19 from the early beginning of the outbreak of the pandemic through its staff in cooperation with medical staff and its media partners. KirkukNow media outlet is one of WADI’s partners.
More information about Wadi’s Campaign against FGM
20.05.2019 The distribution of the Educational Brochure as a Risk Minimization Activity to raise awareness about FGM complications among residents of Javanrud and Salas.
Educational brochures are an important tool for raise awareness about FGM and its complications among in risk people. It is important to evaluate the impact of any risk minimization tool to understand the effectiveness of the strategy.
The objective of this work was to distribute of a targeted educational brochure among residents cities of Javanrud and Salas (Kermanshah Province) as a risk minimization strategy for the stop FGM in these important regions of Iranian Kurdistan.
Dr. Osman Mahmoudi and his team at Hamraz Counseling Center held a prospective, non-interventional study designed to distribute a special brochure designed to provide important new information on female genital mutilation and its complications to a specific urban population consisting of citizens of Salas and Javanrood in Kermanshah province.
The statistical population in this educational project included all women and girls over 18 years of age in the target cities. During pre-marriage classes in 2018 more than 2000 girls and women over the age of 18 in 15 rural and urban areas of Javanrud and Salas were directly trained by 20 trainers about female genital mutilation and its complications. And more than 2000 leaflets on female genital mutilation and its complications in these 15 urban and rural neighborhoods were distributed by the 20 trainers.
It’s important we noted that all of 20 trainers received advanced training about female genital mutilation and complications by Dr. Osman Mahmoudi prior to training and distribution of brochures. Distribution of targeted educational brochures may be an effective risk minimization strategy to raise awareness about FGM and its complications in Kermanshah; Educational brochures may also be an effective channel for sharing information on how FGM should be best managed and ended. The Campaign of Hamraz Counseling Center is hosted by Dr. Osman Mahmoudi. Over the past ten years, the campaign has been active in research, education, and counseling in the cities of Kermanshah (That women are more likely to be circumcised) in the field of female genital mutilation. If they receive more support for running their programs to stop FGM, these important activities can spread to other cities and provinces of Iran.
18.01.2015; By Haje Keli, Wadi
As the activities of WADI against Female genital mutilation (FGM) in Iraqi Kurdistan enter another year in cooperation with local organizations and supported by UNICEF and HIVOS, a number of members of the various organizations collaborating on this effort have provided some feedback after about half a year of work on the project. (more…)
By Rayehe Mozafarian, 06.08.2014
In 2010, the sentences of Shi’ite religious leaders were collected and published in “Razor and Tradition” book.
Gand Ayatollah Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani, the highest-ranking Shia (Marja’) in Iraq and the leader of the Hawza of Najaf said then: “Female Genital Cutting is not Haram” (Haram is used to refer to any act that is forbidden by Allah).
In recent years, new studies and information about FGM in Iraqi-Kurdistan, Kirkuk and some Governorates in Southern Iraq as well as other Middle Eastern countries has been collected and published, for example by the association WADI. Recent worrying news that FGM is being ordered by ISIS has thrown the media into doubt.
By Stop FGM Mideast, 30.07.2014
For the first time ever Iranian activists published a report based on interviews and data collections proving that Female Genital Mutilation is much more widespread in Iran than previously assumed. According to interviews done in several provinces in Northern Iran far more than 50% of females in these regions are mutiliated:
One in four women in Central and Southern Iraq is affected by Female Genital Mutilation, new study suggests
By Wadi, 14.07.2014
A first independent study on female genital mutilation in central/southern Iraq finds that 25% of the women in these regions were subjected to this practice.
The study was conducted in early 2014 in cooperation between physicians, women’s rights and civil society organizations. The researchers’ identities remain undisclosed due to securitiy concerns.
500 women in Wasit province and 500 women in Qadisyiah province were sampled for the study. The data collected suggests that most women are subjected to FGM in childhood, especially before the age of 10. The most often cited reasons for the practice are religious belief, cultural heritage and tradition; it is most commonly performed by a nurse or a midwife.
In light of the challenging security situation and social circumstances under which the study was conducted, the results are to be taken as preliminary indicators urgently demanding further research. Data presented by UNICEF last year suggested that FGM is almost inexistent in southern and central Iraq. The new findings cast considerable doubt on this conclusion and are calling for further thorough investigations.
Female genital mutilation is a grave human rights violation and a form of violence against women according to the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women. Its eradication is explicitly recommended by the international bodies for women’s rights.
The new study contributes to groundbreaking research work on the prevalence of FGM in the Middle East. Until recently official data claimed that FGM did not exist in the Middle East and was in general “an African problem”. In 2009 the German-Iraqi association WADI conducted the first comprehensive area-wide research on FGM in Iraq’s Kurdish provinces which found an alarming prevalence rate of 72%. A similar study conducted in Kirkuk (Northern Iraq) in 2012 revealed a 38% prevalence and gave irrefutable evidence that FGM is not restricted to the Kurdish areas.
Subsequently, the Stop FGM Middle East campaign was launched. It has made many efforts to uncover the true prevalence of the practice across Iraq, the region, and in other parts of Asia.
For more information contact Wadi:
Herborner Str. 62, D-60439 Frankfurt a. M.
Tel: +49-69-57002440, Fax: +49-69-975392640
Wadi Office Iraq
Bakhtiary, Section 113, Street 34, House 21
Iraq Tel.: 00964-7701-588173
14.06.2014 By StopFGMMideast
A new report was just filed to UNCHR about the prevalence of FGM in various regions of Iran.
Some excerpts, you can download the whole document here
FGM in the Kurdish regions
The Kurdish regions of Iran include Kurdistan, Kermanshah, Ilam and south parts of western Azarbaigan province. The majority of the Kermanshah and Ilam population are Shi’as while most of the Kurds in Kurdistan and western Azerbaijan provinces are Sunnis of Shafi’i branch of Islam. Although FGM is widely practiced between Shafi’is, the practice lacks a blanket pattern. In some rural areas it is more or less done on girls, while in the neighbouring villages no one is even aware of it. For example in Kermanshah province, in the Gheshlagh village of Mansour Aghaie regions FGM is practiced, while in the Tazeh Abad of Seryas village, part of Ravansar town no case had been reported.