In the Islamic Republic of Iran female genital mutilation (FGM) is acknowledged as a problem. There have been a number of scientific surveys in the past years and the topic was addressed on conferences. Only recently, several researchers have started looking into the issue in a more systematic way.
Several activists are tackling the issue. It seems that there is some awareness raising, but generally FGM remains a taboo.
About 50% among Sunni minorities
Small-scale surveys indicate a similar cluster to other areas in the Middle East: FGM seems to occur in irregular patterns, with high prevalence in regional and local hotspots. Local studies show that FGM is practiced in the provinces of Kurdistan, Western Azarbaijan, Kermanshah, Illam, Lorestan and Hormozghan. No studies have been conducted in other provinces. The existing studies have found prevalence rates between 40 and 85%. In most cases type I is performed but there is also a relevant number of type II mutilations. The researcher Rayehe Mozafarian has collected several studies and conducted interviews herself which she published in 2013 in a book Tigh o Sonat and in summer 2014 in the study Child Marriage and FGM in the I.R. Iran.
For a comprehensive research published in 2015, Kameel Ahmady and his team have surveyed 3000 women and 1000 men in Iran over the course of six years. The research shows that FGM is practiced by Sunni minorities in West Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, Kermanshah and Hormozgan. Repeated surveys in the same provinces show that the practice is in decline, yet still highly prevalent in some areas. In Western Azerbaijan prevalence has dropped from 39% to 21% today. In Hormozghan 68% affirmed to be mutilated in 2011 while only 60% said so in 2014.
In 2011, the topic was discussed on a national congress on health education in Tabriz. A medical survey was presented which found an FGM prevalence of 55% in a group of 348 interviewed women in Kermanshah province.
From the existing studies it can be assumed that FGM is only or at least mostly practiced by Sunni minorities in Iran. Most regions are bordering Iraq, but prevalence is also high in some places in the very South, among them the city of Hormozgan and the ports of Bandar Kang and Jask.
Ayatollahs: FGM not Islamic, not acceptable today
The official position on FGM seems to be ambivalent. In response to various queries by the webjournal Gozaar about the stance of Islam in regard to female circumcision, Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Hossein Fazlollah answered in 2010, “Our studies of the existing texts on this subject show that female circumcision is not of Islam’s doing and that it does not have an Islamic origin. Female circumcision was a ritual from the era of ignorance (the pre-Islamic era), when it was considered a way for a woman to make herself more attractive to her husband. What has been handed down to us by the Imams proves that the tradition of female circumcision was negated.”
Mozafarian also collected the opinions of Shia clerics on female genital mutilation with mixed results. While the majority did not distance themselves from the practice, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei calls the practice not acceptable: “Today, female genital mutilation is not common among Shiites but the usage narrative show that it does not hurt if it can be done with its conditions, including compliance with health issues. But because the social norms have changed today, this action would not be acceptable like many other topics which their sentences were changed due to circumstances and facts.”
Ongoing activities against FGM in the provinces of Kermansheh and Kurdistan do not meet resistance from state institutions, but are observed with some suspicion by local authorities.
Iranian government takes positive steps
This was different a few years ago when Azarmehr Association of the Women of Kurdistan in Iran, an association active in voicing the general demands of women, started working against FGM. According to the activist Parvin Zabihi, who has written a book on the subject, a number of Kurdish university students started an association against FGM after having written their thesis on FGM. However, no permit was issued for this association. Another anti-FGM activist recounted according to Gozaar: “Officials in the Intelligence Ministry in Kurdistan have summoned us repeatedly and told us bluntly that we do not have the right to be active in this matter and that they have pronounced the establishment of our association to be an act against national security.” To the knowledge of Stop FGM Middle East, one of the reasons given was that the Ministry considered FGM a Sunni business.
During the last years, a vivid debate developed in the Kurdish region after several TV specials on FGM had been aired by Iraqi-Kurdish television stations which are popular among Iranian Kurds. It seems that the Iranian government is reconsidering its reseved position on the issue and is planning to take steps against the practice.
Stop FGM Middle East is in close contact with activists in Iran and is supporting their projects.
— Donate here for a project in Kermansheh via betterplace – the donation will be transferred to us without any fees
Partner projects in Iran:
Stop FGM Iran on facebook
Project Update: Education about FGM in life skill classes for housewives
Study in Iran: They call it tradition because they believe it is a prophetic tradition, 14.12.2015
Study by Osman Mahmoudi: FGM impedes men’s well-being, 9.10.2015
Tehran University organized first conference on female genital mutilation, Stop FGM Middle East, 3.8.2015
Chiman Rahmani: The One of the Thousands, song, 2015
Iranian Film “Almond” tackles FGM, December 2014
Interview in Radio Farda: The Blade of Islam, November 2014
Violations of Girls’ Rights: Child Marriage and FGM in the I.R. Iran, Südwind 2014
Rayehe Mozafarian: The point of view of the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran on Female Genital Mutilation, June 2014
Fariba Davoudi Mohajer: Female Circumcision: Elegy for a Dream, Goozar, August 2010
Golnaz Esfandiari: Female Genital Mutilation Said To Be Widespread In Iraq’s, Iran’s Kurdistan, Radio Free Europe, August 14, 2013