February 6th 2017. On the seventh official International Day of Zero Tolerance to female genital mutilation (FGM), it has been 13 years, that WADI first brought the issue FGM happening in Asia, in this case Iraq, to the international agenda. In this last decade WADI’s campaign against FGM in Iraq has yielded great success as a recent study by the Heartland Alliance in cooperation with Unicef and the High Council of Women Affairs shows. The rates of FGM in Northern Iraq have decreased dramatically when comparing mothers and daughters. Among mothers surveyed 44,8% reported to be cut compared to 10,7% of their daughters. The success of a comprehensive campaign becomes even more evident when looking at the figures of regions where WADI’s campaign started and has been going on since more than ten years: In the region of Halabja only 1.1% of daughters are cut today in comparison to 40% of mothers.
Only four years ago, WADI started the Asia-wide campaign Stop FGM Middle East & Asia. Its aim was to push against the resistance to include Asia on the map of FGM affected countries. This resistance was great and still, we do not fully comprehend why it seemed so difficult for more than a decade to recognize the existence of this cruel practice outside of Africa.
The recognition by the international community can be decisive for local activists to push their government to take measures against this human rights violation. In December, women’s rights groups of the Dawoodi Bohra community in India started a petition to call on the UN to recognize India as a country where FGM is practiced. They argue: „With the UN recognition, we the Bohra women will be able to make official appeals to the Indian government.“
By now, activists in many Asian countries have spoken up and made it impossible to deny that FGM exists in their countries. Most outspoken during the last year, was the campaign by the Bohra in India. Yet, also the campaign in Iran is gaining pace. A draft law prohibiting FGM has been submitted to the government and first hearings are due to take place. New studies in Iran shine a light on the important role of religion in the battle against FGM, showing both: the devastating role of Mullahs promoting FGM, but also how a religious ruling can stop the practice.
Also in Singapore, a subtle but noticeable debate about FGM has started. Last year, WADI and the Singaporean women’s organization AWARE were able to organize the first ever conference on FGM in this part of the world with participants from Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and India.
Finally, last month WADI participated in a high level international conference in Rome where campaign groups, United Nations (UN) officials and government ministers met and called on governments to focus their attentions beyond Africa.
Such a focus on other regions in the world is urgently needed and not only on Asia. As the newest research by filmmaker John Chua and others could reveal, FGM does exist in far more countries than we previously thought. Among them are Cambodia and the Soviet republic of Dagestan, but also several communities in Latin America.
FGM can be eradicated in one generation. This is shown by the newest results from Iraq. Yet, local campaigns need support – and as a first step international recognition must take place.
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