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Iraqi Kurdistan: Draft for a Law Prohibiting Female Genital Mutilation is submitted to the Kurdish Regional Parliament

The campaign "Stop FGM in Kurdistan" has achieved a major breakthrough in its pursuit of a legal ban of female genital mutilation in Iraqi Kurdistan: These days a draft of such a law was submitted to the Kurdish regional Parliament in Arbil.

Beforehand the women’s commission of parliament, the speaker of the group of female members of parliament, Pachschan Zangana and other prominent politicians of the region vigorously pleaded for such a law. A law proposal in Kurdish parliament requires the support of at least ten members of parliament, which was achieved now by 68 signers. Now it is on the parliament to vote on the draft in the near future.

In the past years WADI conducted surveys in 116 villages of the region. 2403 out of the 3665 women and girls asked were mutilated, which means a rate of 65%. Using six mobile teams WADI is presently conducting a region-wide scientific study about the extent and causes of FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) in Iraqi Kurdistan. "The preliminary results are horrific," Suaad Abdulrahman states, coordinator of WADI in Suleymaniah. "In many regions more than 90% of the women are mutilated."

A Successful Campaign

The campaign »Stop FGM in Kurdistan« can present an impressive track record. Being founded as late as April 2007 it gained 14,000 supporters within months. Over time more and more decision-makers could be gained for the cause. Using advertisements in local newspapers and even TV spots it achieved raised awareness and increased knowledge of the problem and triggered a wide public debate hardly anyone would have considered possible some years ago.

"We are grateful for the support of all the advocates of this campaign for their tremendous commitment, which achieved that the law proposal is submitted to parliament after no more than half a year," Abdulrahman said.

»Stop FGM in Kurdistan« is a union of local women’s and human rights organizations, physicians, and lawyers and is supported by the German relief organization WADI e.V., which aids programs for lasting promotion and equality of women since the early 1990s. It was as late as 2005 when the organization published the existence of female genital mutilation in northern Iraq. "Until them FGM was considered a problem of African states," Cheman Rashid, WADI Arbil's project-coordinator explains. "The topic was completely tabooed, which kept women from talking about their problems."

A Ban Alone is Not Enough

A legal ban of female genital mutilation would be a major success for the campaign. However the participating organizations agree that a ban alone cannot solve the problem. FGM is a practice deeply rooted in society and tradition as well as Islam is used as justification. Therefore the ban has to be accompanied by wide range help for the victims and sustainable campaigns to raise awareness.

A large-scale survey about genital mutilation supported by international organizations such as the Swiss Caritas has begun this summer. It is conducted and supervised by WADI. WADI has been engaged in a campaign to raise awareness since 2004 and approaches women especially in rural areas. In cooperation with representatives of the Ministries for Health, Education, Religious affairs, and Justice WADI intends to set up a groups of experts to coordinate the campaign against FGM in schools and hospitals, via media campaigns and mosques.

"Our goal is to largely abolish FGM within the next five years with the support of members of parliament, ministries and non-governmental organizations" Abdulrahman explains.

A Democratic Initiative

WADI’s project director in Iraq Falah Muradkin states that the successes in fighting FGM so far were achieved in exemplarily democratic manner and that they are a model for possible activities of civil society in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan. He emphasizes that parliament as well as the executive branch reacted very positively to the public pressure from the outset, and that the region’s media regarded the campaign with rising interest.

As Suaad Abdulrahman asserts, this campaign is important not only for Iraqi Kurdistan: "There is evidence that FGM is spread throughout the whole region. But in other countries such as Syria or Iran there is no public awareness due to a lack of freedom. Even now many women from other countries in the region get in touch with us and express best wishes for our success. They hope that similar initiatives could emerge in their countries when we succeed."