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Press Statement


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.

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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

Isis Eligbali

Conference on 6th of Feb: Long-term approach to eradicate FGM in Iraqi Kurdistan yields results

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”.

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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.

fgm agenda

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:

Baxan Jamalbaxan.jamal@wadi-online.de or Isis Elgibali: isis.elgibali@wadi-online.de

About Wadi’s Stop FGM Campiagn

Feb 6: Wadi speaks on DW about what made success in Kurdistan possible

6.2.2020 “You need to work with the communities, not against them, said Stop FGM Middle East & Asia campaigner Hannah Wettig on Deutsche Welle TV on February 6th. (more…)

6th of Feb: WADI announces FGM has dropped to zero in highly effected region in Iraqi Kurdistan

5.2.2020. No new cases of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) were recorded in Garmian, the South-Eastern region of Kurdistan in Iraq, during the last year. This historic moment will be celebrated on February 6, International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, in the capital of Garmian. (more…)

Oman bans unexpectedly Female Genital Mutilation

30.9.2019. Two weeks ago, the Omani Ministry of Social Affairs und Development announced a change in the law protecting children. Now, the convention of the child includes a specific prohibition of female genital mutilation (FGM). This change in law came as a surprise to most observers. (more…)

Study finds: FGM is practiced by Saudi women

4.6.2019. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is common among many migrant groups in Saudi Arabia, e.g. women from Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Egypt. Therefore, Saudi gynecologists have long pointed to health complications accompanied with it and have specialized on treating the often severe consequences.Yet, it was so far believed that FGM is not practiced by the Saudi population or if, only by remote tribes at the Yemeni border. Now, a new survey conducted among 963 patients of the Kind Abdelaziz University Hospital shows that FGM is indeed also prevalent among Saudi women.

In the sample, almost 80 percent of the questioned women were of Saudi origin and only 175 women of the total 963 reported to have undergone FGM. Yet, of these 62,8 percent were Saudi. This is indeed a striking result and shows that further research in Saudi Arabia is needed.

On a positive note, the study found that FGM was more common among older women and that support for the continuation of the practice is low with only 5,3 percent wanting it to continue, while 68,7 percent wanted it to stop. Among the group who had undergone FGM support was higher with 18,3 percent wanting to continue it, yet still low compared to other regions were FGM is common and no awareness campaign has taken place.


Read the study:

Abdulrahim A Rouzi, Rigmor C Berg, Rana Alamoudi, Faten Alzaban, Mohammad Sehlo: Survey on female genital mutilation/cutting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 2019




New Awareness Brochures against FGM distributed in Kurdistan-Iran

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.


fgm iran broch


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.

Good news from Iraq, not so good from Egypt

Short Report from the 3rd Middle East conference on FGM

26.11.2018. There is a lot done in Iraq and a lot to be done in Egypt – that could be the very brief summary of the two-day expert meeting on female genital mutilation (FGM) in the Middle East. It was the third of such meetings – the first two were organized by Wadi and Hivos in 2012 in Beirut and 2014 in Istanbul. This time UNFPA took the lead in cooperation with the Swedish Institute, inviting to the meeting on November 19th and 20st to Alexandria, Egypt. (more…)

FGM Worldwide, It’s Worse Than You Think

25.11.2018. By Dr. John Chua

On the 15th of November, the UK Government hosted the world’s experts on Female Genital Mutilation at an international conference. The keynote speech by the UK’s Home Secretary suggests a celebratory tone in acknowledging the successful reduction of FGM in Africa. Indeed, the UK in 2013 made the most generous commitment ever by a single donor to end FGM, with a focus on Africa, resulting in the successes we see now. While commendable, the primary focus on Africa is not new and has meant many other countries are largely ignored.

In 2008, the UK Border Agency published a list of countries where females are at-risk of being subjected to FGM. With only African countries listed, this was for them an African issue. Migrants from these countries could be subjected to investigations or interrogations by officials regarding FGM.

Among many experts, the dominant theory suggests FGM came from Africa thousands of years ago, was later adopted by some Islamic sects and spreads around the world through migration. In Britain, thousands of FGM cases among migrants are recorded each year although there is yet no successful prosecution and conviction.

But the reality is FGM is not just an African problem. The country with the largest number of FGM survivors and at-risk girls is not even African. It is Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country.

As someone who spent nearly a decade travelling worldwide to investigate and research FGM, the truth about this human rights abuse is worse than you might imagine. I’ve found FGM in the cartel land of Mexico, Russian Caucasus, Peruvian Amazon, war zones in Iraq, cosmopolitan Singapore, and even suburban America. FGM, done for different reasons in each place, is a native practice in every continent, except Antarctica.

My work on FGM began almost by accident when I went to Iraq to train journalists and found the NGO Wadi trying to document FGM exists in Iraqi Kurdistan. The West, then still associating FGM with Africa, was shocked to learn of this.

In Iraq, I partnered with Wadi, and produced a few investigative documentaries for The Guardian and BBC that exposed the extent of this problem in Kurdistan. To their credit, the activists at Wadi played a major role in getting FGM outlawed in Kurdistan, and within a few short years, the majority of Kurdish Iraqis turned against FGM.

In 2013, I thought my job was done. But through Wadi, I met other activists working to end FGM. At first, they were the ones in countries adjacent to Iraq, specifically Iran, Saudi Arabia and Oman. I started interviewing them and eventually, I went further afield, first to Malaysia, then the Pattani region in Thailand, and to Singapore. In all these places, FGM is a taboo subject but through sheer determination I was able to talk to cutters, survivors and activists. In Singapore, I surveyed 116 Muslim women and 86 of them were FGM survivors.

Although I am British, I was born in Singapore and to my dismay, people there I have known most of my life are impacted by FGM. I even recorded video of medical staff in Singapore offering to cut my nonexistent British daughter.

In fact, in many parts of the world, FGM is found in medical settings, with parents erroneously thinking it would be ‘safer’ if done in a clinic. Two years ago a teenage girl died after undergoing FGM in an Egyptian clinic.

Bildschirmfoto 2019-01-09 um 10.06.24

In a special report, I met and interviewed a gynaecologist in Dagestan, Russia who truly believes in the medical ‘benefits’ of FGM. In Detroit last year, doctors belonging to the Dawoodi-Bohra Muslim sect were arrested for performing FGM.

But this isn’t new; there is a long history of doctors performing FGM. In the mid-1800s, some British doctors recommended cutting the clitoris to cure many sicknesses. Dr. Isaac Baker Brown, the president of the Medical Society of London, published his 1866 treatise On the Curability of Certain Forms of Insanity, Epilepsy, Catalepsy, and Hysteria in Females, prescribing clitoridectomy for a number of illnesses.

These ideas took hold in the United States for a number of decades, well into the twentieth century. While American families would generally not talk about female genital cutting and the exact number of such operations is unknown, there is ample evidence that some white Christian women were subjected to FGM.

For nearly a century, American medical texts and doctors taught female circumcision and clitoridectomy and Christian books make positive reference to the procedure as a cure for masturbation, even as late as the 1960s. One such book by a former dean of a medical school is still for sale on a church’s website.

I managed to track down a white Christian FGM survivor and convinced her to go public with her story. For many decades Dr. Rene Bergstrom kept her story a secret, afraid that publicising it would upset her family. (Her mother, concerned that she was masturbating, found a doctor to cut her when she was three.)

Together we released her story first at The Guardian and then later as the main subject in a short film, which won a prize on PBS’s To The Contrary and aired across the United States in late 2017. After the TV broadcast, a few white Christian FGM survivors contact us. Like Renee, all of them thought they were alone in having survived FGM, as they have never heard about it happening to any other white people they know.

In the Americas, FGM is not just in the United States. The Emberás of Panama and Colombia practice FGM. We would not have known about it had not the death of young girls from the cutting in 2007 caught the attention of the wider world.

As explained in an interview I conducted with an Emberá activist and with the UN in Colombia, they believed that cutting the clitoris would prevent it from becoming a penis. Furthermore, one prevailing theory is that African slaves bought the cutting tradition to the new world.

But I’m suspicious of this out-of-Africa theory and as I discovered, FGM is also found among many other tribes in Colombia. How could African slaves have influenced such a large area of the country? FGM is indigenous to South America and I found the proof in Amazonian Peru.

For centuries the Shipibo tribe had elaborate ceremonies celebrating the genital cutting of teenage girls. While these practices have stopped in recent years, the artefacts used for the cutting have been radiocarbon dated to a time before the arrival of Columbus. Meanwhile other South American tribes like the Secoya and Kaxinawá reportedly still practice FGM, and their remote locations make outreach and studies difficult.

Recently I have completed a feature length documentary by combining all the footage I have shot around the globe. But my research is incomplete; it will take many more people to comprehensively investigate and document FGM worldwide.

For example, I have heard a story that some Nahuas in Mexico cut the genitals of young girls. This remains to be proven. But in Juárez, Mexico for the last two decades, cartel serial killers kidnap young women and after sexual and genital mutilation, dump their bodies as a warning to others.

Hundreds if not thousands of women have been killed. Despite the arrests and convictions of the supposed killers, the femicide continues. On a recent visit to Juárez, I saw first hand how the missing women impact the psyche of the city.

After watching masked police officers patrol Juárez’s streets and seeing arrests on street corners in the ‘war on drugs’, I read that in many parts of Mexico, the authorities are accused of torturing arrested women with electric shocks to their genitals, which could cause burns which fit Type IV FGM. Clearly FGM is used to instil fear in the population.

Just a few years ago, FGM experts and friends felt my attempt to document FGM around the world was a fool’s errand. I can’t explain why I did it, as I never expected to come this far.

But I’ve learned this. While FGM is found across many ethnic groups and religions, with each assigning a different ‘reason’ for its practice, underneath their irrational explanations lie a universal mad urge to control the female body, sexuality and behaviour.

Formulating government policies to end FGM require knowledge of the facts and sadly, there is still so much the world doesn’t know about FGM. I suspect the UK will continue to focus primarily on ending FGM in Africa or where they might realistically achieve the best results. I simply can’t imagine the British Government stepping in to stop FGM in places like southern Iraq or even friendly countries such as Oman or Singapore.

But as I have also learned in northern Iraq, it takes individuals standing up to end this scourge. You could very well be situated close to someone affected by FGM. It takes all of us exposing FGM globally to end it.

Dr. John Chua’s feature film Cut: Exposing FGM Worldwide screens at Terre des Femmes Film Festival in Germany on 24th of November, ahead of its global release by Gravitas Ventures, the film distribution subsidiary of the German TV network ProSiebenSat.1.

Wadi talks on Deutsche Welle about FGM in Asia

27.8.2018 The German women’s rights organization Terre des Femmes just came out with new figures about female genital mutilation (FGM): More than 65.000 women and girls are cut in Germany, 12 percent more than the last estimate. This rise is mainly due to an influx of refugees from Somalia, Eritrea and Iraq in recent years. Deutsche Welle TV spoke with WADI on the news in it’s English and German program about FGM in Iraq and Asia. Bildschirmfoto 2018-08-28 um 11.26.02