“They Took Me and Told Me Nothing”: Female Genital Mutilation in Iraqi Kurdistan
I remember my mother and her sister-in-law took us two girls, and there were four other girls. We went to Sarkapkan for the procedure. They put us in the bathroom, held our legs open, and cut something. They did it one by one with no anesthetics. I was afraid, but endured the pain. There was nothing they did for us to soothe the pain. I had one week of pain. After that just a little bit. I never went to the doctors. [They were] never concerned. I have lots of pain in this specific area they cut when I menstruate.
—Gola S., 17-year-old student, Plangan, May 29, 2009
In Iraqi Kurdistan a survey by the Ministry of Human Rights in 2009 suggests that in one district over 40 percent of women and girls aged 11-24 years have been subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM). An NGO survey covering a wider geographical area gives even higher figures. The practice involves the cutting out of the clitoris, and is carried out mainly on girls between the ages of three and 12 years at the request of their female relatives, usually by a traditional midwife using an unsterile razor blade. As Gola S. explains, girls are often unaware what is about to happen to them, they experience great pain during the procedure and afterwards, and the practice can have lasting physical, sexual and psychological health consequences.
While internationally recognized as a form of violence against women and girls, the tragedy is that FGM is perpetuated by mothers, aunts and other women who love and want the best for their children, who see the practice as ensuring that girls are marriageable, are conforming to the tenets of Islam, and are growing up to be respectable and respected members of Kurdish society.
FGM poses a difficult challenge for the government and people of Iraqi Kurdistan. It is a complex issue to address, its eradication requiring strong leadership from the authorities and partnerships across the political spectrum and with religious leaders, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and communities to bring about social change. First and foremost, it requires Iraqi Kurds in positions of leadership and influence to recognize and accept that FGM is a problem, one that can be addressed through concerted action that will reinforce Iraqi Kurdistan’s reputation as a society committed to the protection of the rights of women and children, and a society in which Muslims practice their faith without FGM, as is the case with the majority of Muslims across the world.
Human Rights Watch traveled to the Kurdistan Autonomous Region in May 2009 to carry out the research for this report, meeting girls and women who had undergone the procedure as well as traditional midwives, healthcare workers, clerics, government officials, and nongovernmental organizations. We interviewed people about the impact of FGM on their lives, explored views and representations of reasons for the practice, and met activists and others committed to its eradication. Our study did not extend to Kurdish populations in Iraq outside the Autonomous Region, or into other communities in Iraq, but nongovernmental organizations told Human Rights Watch that they suspect the practice may also exist elsewhere in the country.
This report is based on field research conducted in the northern territories of Iraq, known as Iraqi Kurdistan. Fifty-four interviews took place in four villages, two in each of the Iraqi Kurdistan districts of Ranya and Germian, and in the southern town of Halabja in May and June 2009.
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