June 23, 2011
Hemn Hadi & Patrick Smith
For the first time in Iraqi Kurdistan women are protected by a new law against some of the traditions most harmful towards them.
Yesterday the regional parliament ratified a bill banning female genital mutilation and domestic violence. This is a landmark law in a region that is more steeped in such practices than surrounding countries.
Female circumcision, where the clitoris and hood, and sometimes the labia, are cut away, is particularly commonly in rural areas. A German-Iraqi study conducted in 2007/08 showed more than 77 percent of female interviewees aged 14 and over in the Kurdish province of Sulaimaniyah had undergone the procedure.
The new law lays out the penalty for encouraging female genital mutilation as 3 to 6 years imprisonment or a IQD 1 million ($860) fine. Those who carry out the operation will be sentenced to 3 to 5 years or a fine equal to IQD 5 million ($4300). If they are medical practitioners they will be banned from working for three years.
The demanding of dowry payments, forced marriage, arranged marriages for young women to men many years their elder and forcing women into prostitution are also outlawed by the new law.
It is not clear how a law, seeking to stop a practice, such as genital mutilation, that is not carried out though official means, will be enforced.
Kurdistan's health minister, Taher Hawrami, said authorities are distributing posters to promote awareness, but he said religious leaders should do more to end the practice.
"The clerics should take on the main role. People need to have better understanding of religion in order to give up this phenomenon."
There are also many issues that are not covered by bill. Payman Abdul-Kareem, a member of the parliamentary committee for women and children’s affairs said: ‘When a woman is divorced, she does not have anywhere to go and is often mistreated.
“There ought to be social welfare safety nets to cope with this.”
Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report last year that showed there are at least four factors driving the prevalence of genital mutilation: a link to Kurdish identity, a religious imperative, social pressure, and an attempt to control a woman's sexuality.
The practice is often carried out at home and by people without medical training. When not done properly the girls, who are often as young as ten, can have lasting damage and in extreme cases die from loss of blood or infection.