BASNEWS | 04.06.2017
Female Circumcisions or Female Genital Mutilation in Kurdistan
Circumcision is defined as cutting of female external genitalia which is carried out by traditional...
WEEKLY STANDARD | 17.06.2015
Confronting FGM in Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan
Female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C) exists in the Islamic Republic of Iran even...
stopfgmmideast | 20.05.2015
Campaign in Iraqi Kurdistan: Paying a visit to a Mullah who promoted FGM
The shock was great when the Iraqi Kurdish Xelk Media Network reported about a Kurdish Mullah...
THE TELEGRAPH | 04.03.2015
"If they mutilate my granddaughter? I’ll kill them’. Meet Iraqi village ending FGM
Amirah vividly recalls the day she was taken into a bathroom by the village midwife and forced to...
biomedcentral | 06.02.2015
The diversity of Kurdish women’s perspectives of female genital mutilation
The 6th February is marked by the United Nations sponsored awareness day, International...
WADI | 10.02.2015
International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM in the Kurdistan Parliament
Wadi, UNICEF and the High Council of Women Affairs launched an event about how...
stopfgmmideast | 05.02.2015
Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM: We need more campaigns in Asia
On the fifth official International Day of Zero Tolerance to female genital mutilation (FGM)...
WADI | 02.02.2015
Four new TV-spots Wadi has produced supported by UNICEF
as part of the ongoing campaign to eliminate FGM in Iraqi-Kurdistan. These spots will be aired by different TV stations...
Female Genital Mutilation a Growing Problem in Iran
The hideous practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) is neither an exclusively Muslim nor a...
ORCHIDPROJECT | 17.12.2014
KMEWO Event on FGC
On November 13th 2014, the Kurdish and Middle Eastern Women Organisation (KMEWO)...
WADI | 09.12.2014
Radio feature on WADI’s efforts to improve the situation of Free FGM Villages in Iraqi-Kurdistan
“Fichar” program at Radio Deng, an independent Radio station in Kalar, did a feature on WADI as...
WADI | 03.12.2014
Kurdish FGM-Free Village invited to Talkshow
Kurdistan's first FGM-free village as talk show guests on 'Binewshe" (KurdSat TV) to... | 18.10.2014
A Kurdish girl's story of Female genital mutilation FGM in Iraqi Kurdistan
As we all know from news reports from the region, the people of Iraqi Kurdistan have been...
TRUST.ORG | 09.09.2014
Iraqi Kurdistan could end FGM in a generation - expert
Female genital mutilation could be eradicated in Iraqi Kurdistan within a generation, a U.N...
The Guardian | 08.09.2014
Majority in Iraqi Kurdistan oppose female genital mutilation
Survey reveals widespread knowledge of FGM's dangers, with 68% of people saying it...
stop fgm mideast | 29.07.2014
FGM in Iraq: The hoax of a hoax?
Last week a statement by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was circulating in Arab...
WADI BLOG | 22.07.2014
Islamic caliphate labels female genital mutilation obligatory
Recently the Islamic state issued a fatwa which called female genital mutilation a religious...
WADI | 14.07.2014
One in four women in Central and Southern Iraq is affected by Female Genital Mutilation, new study suggests
A first independent study on female genital mutilation in central/southern Iraq finds that...
HIVOS | 13.06.2014
Kurdish villages declare themselves FGM-free
For ten years, Hivos partner WADI has been campaigning against female genital...
wadi | 05.06.2014
Cooperation agreement between UNICEF and WADI to combat FGM in Northern Iraq
UNICEF and WADI just signed a contract to boost the ongoing...
Gatestone Inst. | 07.05.2014
Solidarity Against Female Genital Mutilation
"No victim files charges against her own parents." — Rayeyeh Mozafarian, University of Shiraz...
stopfgmmideast | 30.04.2014
Second Middle East Conference on FGM to tackle myths
The Second Middle East & Asia Conference on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) by WADI and...
opendemocracy | 14.02.2014
Embracing shame: turning honour on its head
The challenge that embracing shame poses to the longstanding perversion of honour, is the... | 10.02.2014
Continues battle against Female Genital Mutilation FGM in Iraqi Kurdistan
For many years, people have believed that practicing of female genital mutilation (FGM) is...
wadi | 05.02.2014
Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation; Action in Asia is needed
On the fourth official International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female genital mutilation (FGM), the...
RUDAW.NET | 27.01.2014
A Slow Fight for Kurdistan’s Women
“It is like digging a well with a fingernail. Our work is very slow. But we did make progress.”
DEUTSCHE WELLE | 09.12.2013
Iraqi Kurdistan fights female circumcision
Female circumcision is slowly declining in Iraqi Kurdistan. Years of campaigning and a law...
RUDAW.NET | 29.11.2013
Kurdistan Premier: Stronger Policies Needed to Combat Gender Violence
Two years ago the KRG passed a law banning violence against women including genital...
BBC | 07.11.2013
BBC-Documentary: Dropping the Knife; The Fight against FGM
A BBC-Documentary: Dropping the knife; the fight against FGM...
CPT | 04.11.2013
IRAQI KURDISTAN: WADI shifts attitudes toward Female Genital Mutilation
On 30 October 2013, CPT’s partner organization, WADI Iraq office, organized a press...
AL-MONITOR | 02.11.2013
Female Circumcision Continues in Iraqi Kurdistan
Despite the efforts of Kurdish civil society organizations and the media to shed light on the...
HIVOS | 27.10.2013
WADI’s ground-breaking campaign against FGM: interview
Falah Moradhkin is WADI’s project coordinator in Iraq. He was one of the few who survived a...
BBC RADIO | 25.10.2013
Kurdistan's success in stemming Female Genital Mutilation
Kurdistan is one of Iraq's rare success stories, the region has enjoyed an oil boom and...
GULFNEWS.COM | 24.10.2013
How Kurdistan ended female genital mutilation
Two years ago, FGM was banned as part of a wide-ranging law to improve women’s rights...
the guardian | 24.10.2013
FGM: the film that changed the law in Kurdistan
Two filmmakers spent almost a decade reporting the greatest taboo subject in Kurdish society...
BIOMED CENTRAL | 08.09.2013
Female genital mutilation among Iraqi Kurdish women: a cross-sectional study from Erbil city
Iraqi Kurdistan region is one of the areas where female genital...
wadi | 14.08.2013
Rate of FGM decreases in some regions of Iraqi Kurdistan
The British MP Gary Kent has traveled again to Iraqi-Kurdistan and recently wrote an article...
The Independent | 31.05.2013
Fighting against Female Genital Mutilation in Iraq
It is a misguided belief that Islam requires young women be circumcised...
CIP | 22.03.2013
The Global Campaign Against Female Genital Mutilation Continues
A global campaign to eradicate female genital mutilation [FGM], often misnamed "female...
Kurdistantribune | 04.03.2013
Tackling Female Genital Mutilation in the Kurdistan Region
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is defined by the Word Health Organization (WHO) as...
UN Special | 06.02.2013
The long road to the first FGM-free villages in Iraq
According to a large survey conducted in 2009, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is...




WOMENS NEWS | 21.08.2004

Genital mutilation is traditional in Iraqi Kurdistan

Activists are seeking to end female genital mutilation in Iraq’s Kurdistan even as they try to determine how common the practice is.

By Nicholas Birch

SULAIMANIYAH, Kurdistan (WOMENSNEWS) -- With her six children and her fine-boned face aged beyond her 39 years, Amina Khidir seems a fairly ordinary Kurdish farmer’s wife. Unlike most, though, she also has a job. She circumcises girls.

"My mother taught me the technique," she says, sitting cross-legged in her house in Zurkan, a village in the remote Pizhdar district of northeastern Iraqi Kurdistan. "I took over three years ago, just before she died."

Her first operation, she remembers, was on her own daughter. She says she didn’t feel nervous. "I had spent years watching how the cut was done. And my daughter was a baby at the time, too small to understand what was happening. That’s the best age to do it."

In a matter-of-fact-way, Khidir talks about how she handles the aftermath of her work. She describes applying oak wood charcoal to reduce pain in the wound and sitting the child in a bowl of cold water and antiseptic solution after the operation. When asked about the specifics of the procedure she performs, however, she covers her face with her loosely worn headscarf and refrains from speaking too specifically.

"I cut about a quarter off with a razor," she says, in an apparent reference to the so-called Sunna circumcision, a mutilation that some clerics have attributed to a tradition taught by the Prophet Mohamed that involves removing the prepuce. Sometimes the clitoris is left intact, but sometimes part of or all of it is removed.

Dreaming of an End

Qalthum Murat, an advocate of secularism and modernity in one of the most socially conservative, tribal parts of northern Iraq, knows Khidir’s story -- and others like them -- all too well. She dreams of the day when she will hear them no more.

The 24-year-old spends four days a week visiting the women of outlying villages to bring basic health advice, largely to do with food and sanitation. Each of these days, she struggles with the divisions between rural and urban Iraqi Kurdish society.

Superficially, little separates her from women such as Khidir. She still lives barely 15 miles from Khidir’s village, in the scruffy, impoverished smuggling town where she was brought up, Raniya. She left school at 16.

Politics, however, have shielded her from genital mutilation. Her family sympathizes with the radical wing of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the more progressive of the two parties that have ruled Iraqi Kurdistan since it broke away from Baghdad in 1991.

Murat has been a member of the local branch of the PUK’s Women’s Union since she was 15. Last year, Rewan, a women’s group based in the regional capital of Sulaimaniyah, invited her to join. The group has been fighting for a decade to eradicate female genital mutilation from Iraqi Kurdistan.

Mobile Health-Awareness Classes

Given a grant six months ago by coalition authorities to provide mobile health awareness classes to the women of the Pizhdar district, Rewan charged Murat with collecting data about the prevalence of female genital mutilation. The cassettes she plays to villagers--followed by a question-and-answer session--warn about the health dangers both of FGM and the widespread local tradition of marrying girls off very young.

Murat admits that the two sides of her work sometimes come into conflict. "The survey will only be accurate if I win the trust of villagers," she says. At the same time, she describes herself as being like an anti-FGM missionary.

More prominently associated with several countries in Africa -- where some traditional midwives are giving up their FGM work in response to public-health and legal efforts -- female genital mutilation is also practiced in the Arabian peninsula and other areas of the Middle East.

There are now some penalties for practicing FGM in Iraqi Kurdistan. Certified midwives caught operating on girls lose their certification. But activists admit threats of legal action rarely have any effect on traditional practitioners in the villages, who work in the secrecy of their homes.

The main problem -- as with other countries in the region -- is that statistics are totally lacking. A countrywide health survey done by the New York-based United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, between 1998 and 2002 returned no FGM data. Large surveys since the war have not touched on the phenomenon.

Better Data on FGM in Region

In areas of Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s control until last year, efforts to fill in the blanks left by that study have barely begun. In Kurdish areas, by contrast, attempts to quantify the phenomenon are way ahead. They began over a decade ago, as part of a wave of national regeneration that swept the region following its de facto secession in 1991.

One of the first on the scene was Qalthum Murat’s colleague, Runak Faraj, editor of the women’s bimonthly newspaper published by Rewan since 1992. She has come to two conclusions; that the practice is limited to the southern half of Iraqi Kurdistan and is most prevalent in rural areas.

"In Sulaimaniyah city, figures suggest only 2-3 percent of women have been circumcised...  almost all of them (living) in the poorer suburbs," Faraj says. In the remote border regions of Qaladze, Raniya and Pizhdar, meanwhile, she thinks female genital mutilation is almost universal.

There is evidence to back up her estimates

In Zurkan, Amina Khidir’s village, there are 300 families and three women who practice genital mutilation. In Raniya, professional midwife Khadija Zaher has been helping local women through childbirth for 14 years.

"It’s only in the last two years that I’ve begun to see women who have not been circumcised," she says.

Not everyone agrees that the practice is so common, though. "With aid money available to those with the most apocalyptic statistics, it is easy to exaggerate," warns Thomas von der Osten-Sacken, whose German nongovernmental organization, based in Sulaimaniyah, specializes in women’s issues. "I personally suspect that circumcision levels for women in the Sulaimaniyah governorate are much closer to 10 percent than the 40 percent suggested by some."

Beyond Statistics

But it is not just the absence of reliable statistics that hampers the work of groups like Rewan. There is also the gulf that separates practitioners from those trying to dissuade them.

"I often feel like the two Kurdish communists who went round villages trying to convince people that God was an illusion," laughs Qalthum Murat, referring to the anti-FGM cassettes she works with. "The villagers listened politely, brought tea, nodded gravely. At the end, one of them sighed, ’Yes, this is a complicated business, but God is great. He will find a solution."

For four years after she began her campaign to eradicate female genital mutilation in 1992, Rewan’s Runak Faraj found that her activists -- mainly secular-minded urban women -- were struggling to communicate with villagers. It was then that she decided to talk directly to the clerics who exert such influence over the local way of life.

"Of course, it was ultimately a decision of individual imams," she says, referring to the religious leaders. "Some refused to cooperate but most did. Two senior clerics in particular, Mullah Mohamed Amin and Mullah Mohamed Saleh, are now among the most active in the campaign to eradicate the practice."

Qalthum Murat is more pessimistic. "In almost every village I visit, it is the old women and the clerics who most strongly oppose my work. They accuse me of being an atheist and a member of the PKK," she says, referring to the extreme left-wing Turkish Kurdish armed separatist group that has its base in the mountains just behind Zurkan. "Unless local authorities begin to take the matter seriously, I am afraid it will be a long time before this practice disappears from the region."

Nicholas Birch is a freelancer based in Turkey and working throughout the region. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, The Guardian, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Globe and Mail.