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Monday, February 22, 2010

FGM, once a taboo now a breached silence

February 21, 2010
By The Kurdish Globe

Encouraged by houses built by the KRG, Kulajo residents return home.
"I was seven or eight years old, playing on the street opposite our house when I heard girls yelling and screaming. I followed the sounds and it preceded to a neighbor's house; the front yard was packed with young girls my age, whispering each other of their fear." Begins Fatma Aziz*, as she recalls her story of the day she escaped from becoming a victim to Female Genital Mutilation.

"There was a room with an old lady, my friends told me she had a knife with her, I put my head through the door and saw the old lady, wearing black head to toe, there were a lot of girls lying on the ground crying." Aziz now realized those girls were 'done' and the turn was coming to those terrified in the front yard.

"The old woman saw me and called out 'bring her in', I ran as fast as I could back to our house and reported what I had seen to my mother. My mother did not let me leave the house until the old lady was gone."

Aziz knows, if she had not ran as fast she did that day, she too, like her friends in the village, over 55 years ago, would have also been circumcised, or mutilated. She is one of the few success stories, as the phenomenon over half a century ago was not rare in the Kurdish region.

Recently, a German relief organization, WADI, Association for Crisis Assistance and Development Cooperation, published results to a study of the prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the Kurdistan region.

In the study a total of 1408 women were interviewed, the survey results, according to WADI revealed that the overall mutilation rate in the Kurdish region, except Duhok amounts to 72.7%, In Erbil the rate is lower at 63.0% and Suleymaniya is 77.9%. The higher rates of FGM stand at 81.2% in the Garmyan and the New Kirkuk areas.

Shna Abdulla * is a university student who argues that the results of the study, to a large degree, are not a clear reflection of the Kurdish society and the participants are not selected randomly. "I know from my relatives and friends, many of my direct family members are not circumcised, I can speak for many others are well." Although she does confirm in the villages this is a different story, but not to the extent that has been demonstrated in the study.

"You cannot selectively survey a thousand women and use them as an example representing all other females in the Kurdistan Region" said Revan Sherko* another student, she points out: "I come from a village and so do all my relatives and family, and we never experienced what is stated in the study, it did happen, but they were a few households that practiced the routine on their female children."

The study does affirm that "today, the odds of girls escaping mutilation seem to be better than only some decades ago. Among women under the age of 20, the mutilation rate is 57.0%, while in the 30-39 age group, it is 73.8%. The rate rises up to 95.7% among women over 80." These results are a clear illustration that the rate of FGM is decreasing generation after generation.

Most women, who have undergone the process of FGM, went through the same experience as Aziz. Going under the hands of an old lady who had plenty of experience, as 80% of those interviewed alleged to be victims of the FGM process at home and 13.5% at a neighbor's house.

Some of the ideas that have been revolving around the idea of FGM, Aziz explains that food prepared by an uncircumcised women was allegedly unhalal.

The analysis of the results revealed a clear link between Islam and the practice of FGM. "The considerable influence of Islamic religious authorities on the practice of mutilation is evident. Thus almost one third of the women who indicated that FGM was a common practice in their communities also indicated that the local mullah supports the mutilation." When participants of the Garmiyan and New Kirkuk areas were questioned regarding the reasons of their mutilation, 84.7% said religion is the main reason, in Suleimaniya this stands at 32.7% and 17.8% in Erbil. Those in Erbil and Suleimaniya stated that tradition played a larger role.

"FGM is extremely taboo in Erbil governorate and only a few men in this governorate even know that it goes on." The study further clarifies that "Other indices support the conclusion that men in the Erbil region are largely disconnected from the practice of FGM. Thus, only one interviewee in Erbil affirmed that her husband had forced her to mutilate their daughter,"

The issue of FGM still remains a taboo in most households, but recently becoming an open issue in society, where both governmental and non-governmental organizations are working to erase the culturally rooted phenomenon that is undertaken on the basis of religion. Yet the study has been proven to be an exaggeration and does not by any means represent the entire female population of Kurdistan.

* Names have been changed for ethical reasons