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Second Middle East Conference on FGM to tackle myths

Berlin, 30.4.2014. By WADI. The Second Middle East & Asia Conference on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) by WADI and Hivos will take place from May 7th to May 10th in Istanbul.

The conference will tackle two myths about Female Genital Mutilation. It is commonly believed that FGM is mainly practiced in Africa and that it has no religious grounds. Both claims are not true.

FGM is practiced widely in Asia: In Middle Eastern countries such as Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq and Iran, but also in Southeast Asia: in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, India and the Maledives.

New study from South Iraq

We have invited the most prominent Anti-FGM activists from Oman, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Malaysia and Indonesia to present new studies about the prevalence of FGM in their countries and talk about their struggle against the cruel practice which much more than 140 million girls and women have fallen victim to worldwide. Highlights will be three new studies, which have not been presented before: from Southern Iraq, from Iran and from Oman. For South Iraq it is the first study ever on FGM.

It is the first time that so many prominent activists from the Middle East and Southeast Asia will meet on this subject with the aim of forming a network.

It is also the first time that UNICEF with its largest single program to combat FGM in the world will participate. After UNICEF has published reports about FGM for years implying that the cruel practice was more or less an African problem only existing in small pockets in the Middle East, a rethinking in this international organization has taken place, now leading to a widening of their struggle against FGM in Western Asia.

Discussing Religion

Another highlight of the conference will be the focus on the relation between FGM and Islam. It has been an undisputed credo that FGM is a tradition unrelated to religion. Yet, in parts of the Muslim world many people believe that they are acting in the name of religion when they mutilate their little girls often causing health problems such as cysts, infections and infertility and even more often ruining their later sex life and partnerships. Some prominent Islamic scholars have taken a stance against FGM pointing to the theological fact that such bodily harm is against Islam and a fulfilled sex life for both men and women is recommended. However, other Islamic scholars take an ambivalent position stating that “female circumcision” is not a must but recommendable if done properly according to certain Hadiths. A few Islamic scholars even claim that cutting a girl’s genitals is religiously necessary.

On the conference, Muslim representatives will discuss how to counter such opinions. Representatives of Islamic Relief and the Malaysian organization Sisters of Islam will present their approach, a researcher from Iran will explain the Shia position and a medical professor from Saudi Arabia will explain why it is hardly possible to cut a girl in an “Islamic way”.

The German-Iraqi NGO WADI has been working since ten year on combating FGM in Northern Iraq. The film by the BBC “Dropping the Knife” is documenting how our Stop FGM campaign in Iraqi Kurdistan was able to change ideas and perceptions in society.

When evidence became undisputable that FGM existed in many more countries in the Middle East, we organized the First conference on FGM in the Middle East in Beirut in January 2012.

In early 2013, Wadi and Hivos launched the project Stop FGM Middle East. The project aims at networking activists from the whole region, to collect data about FGM in the Middle East and Asia and to distribute this information to journalists, the United Nations and international NGOs.