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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.

fgm logo 1

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