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Press Statement: FGM in Iran needs to be put on international agenda

9.6.2015. By Stop FGM Middle East. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is practiced in Iran as well as in many other countries not on the list of Unicef highlighting 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East. Now, finally this fact is widely recognized and published in international media after the social anthropologist Kameel Ahmady released his comprehensive study on FGM/C in Iran.

Ahmady and his team have surveyed 3000 women and 1000 men in Iran over the course of ten years. The research shows that FGM is practiced by Sunni minorities in West Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, Kermanshah and Hormozgan. Repeated surveys in the same regions 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 addition, Ahmady gives an overview of the studies already done in Iran on FGM previously, news articles written and some anti-FGM activities which have taken place in the last years. His study shows clearly that FGM is an issue in Iran already taken seriously by a number of people even though not by many.

UN needs to recognize the problem

After Ahmady’s work was reported so widely Stop FGM Middle East is calling on the international community to finally recognize the problem and support efforts on the ground to eradicate FGM in Iran.

In the last years, a number of activists, namely Rayehe Mozafarian have undertaken great efforts to bring FGM in Iran to the international agenda. In 2011, Ms. Mozafarian completed her thesis “a survey on social- cultural factors related to female genital mutilation (FGM) in Iran: a case study of Qeshm Island, Hormozgan” for which she interviewed 400 circumcised females. In 2013, she published the book Razor and Tradition (Tigh o Sonnat) by Utopiran. This March, Mozafarian spoke in New York at the UN Women’s Commission on the Status of Women Side Event together with Hannah Wettig from Stop FGM Middle East about FGM in Iran. Mozafarian also initiated a written statement to the UN Human Rights Council in 2014 while Stop FGM Middle East contributed to the NGO submissions to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child a report on FGM in Iran in 2015. Yet, the UN still have to recognize officially the existence of FGM in Iran.

A vivid activist scene is tackling the practice

At the same time, anti-FGM campaigning is taking place on the ground. Just to name one of many activities, Elham Hosseini and Osman Mahmoudi are addressing the subject in a number of ways in their family consulting center in Kermansheh – one of the hotspots of FGM in Iran. They hold regular educational classes for women and parents with children in pre-schools and in the counseling center. Similar classes are planned by Parvin Zabihi in the city of Marivan.

Currently, the Kermansheh consulting center is training 50 psychology students as trainers for such classes and other measures to tackle FGM. One such measure is the offer of psychotherapy for victims of FGM. Mahmoudi and Hosseini are not only treating women who have undergone FGM but also couples because they have realized that overcoming marital problems arising from the mutilation are best overcome if both partners are addressed. It is also well understood, that FGM in general is an issue which needs to be battled by men and women.

For educational purposes Mahmoudi and Muhammad Rauf Amini have translated material developed by the Stop FGM in Kurdistan campaign by WADI in Iraq and adjusted it to Iranian needs.

Iranian government should take more courageous steps

The Iranian government has reacted positively towards activities against FGM, but not taken noticeable steps on its own. It seems that Ahmady is correct in his assumption that the government perceives FGM as a Sunni minority problem and shies away from interfering.

Yet, there have been steps less noticeable. Mozafarian has had several meetings with government officials and demands for further steps were received positively. Iran’s vice president for women’s affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi has been a proposal to ban FGM in Iran. Molaverdi is also considering Mozafarian’s proposal for a nationwide campaign to end FGM.

Furthermore, a number of high-ranking clerics playing a government-like role in Iranian politics have issued Fatwas against FGM. Thanks to the persistent requests by Ms Mozafarian even Grand Ayatollah Khameini took a position against the practice calling it outdated.

These careful steps by the Iranian government must be regarded as very encouraging in a Middle Eastern context. Other countries in the region, like Oman, are hushing the subject down, keeping research in the locker and restricting it.

However, a more courageous approach is possible as demonstrated by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq which has taken the lead in the struggle against FGM in the Middle East. After passing a law banning FGM in 2011, the KRGs campaign against the practice (supported by UNICEF and implemented by WADI and it’s partners) encompasses a wide range of activities tackling all sectors of society, like trainings and certificates for midwives, trainings of policemen, village education, lectures in schools and regular awareness films on television.

As a next step, WADI is planning to open a Research and Consultation Center for FGM and Reproductive Health in the Middle East located in Suleymania, Iraq.

Stop FGM Middle East hopes that the Iranian government will take the good experience in Iraq as an example for more decisive steps against FGM. We also call on the international community to finally put Iran on the map of FGM effected countries.

For further information on FGM in Iran please contact info@stopfgmmideast.org