We continue our attempts to expand the #StopFGM Campaign to other parts of Iraq. In May activists and NGOs from South and Central Iraq met with Kurdish counterparts to discuss next steps together.
Therefore Wadi hosted a conference May 15 – 17 inviting NGOs from Central and Southern Iraq to discuss and share experiences on violence against women (VAW), and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) as a form of violence against women, share good practices and discuss the passing of a law that would ban FGM in all of Iraq. While the Kurdish Regional Government passed a law in 2011 banning the practice of FGM as well as other forms of violence against women and children, no similar law was passed by the parliament in Baghdad. Now some 13 years later Wadi is once again calling on lawmakers, NGOs and the public to support passing a law banning the practice in all of Iraq.
The conference hosted by Wadi May 15-17 was a kick off for the discussions about the importance of having a law that bans the practice of FGM in all of Iraq. Wadi team members shared their experiences and presentations on their work with FGM and other forms of VAW such as forced marriage, early marriage, and domestic violence, and a common message was that although FGM was at first a seriously difficult topic to talk about, it opened up the doors for really deep and meaningful conversations with women (and men) on systemic societal problems and how to work to change them.
If we can convince a mother not to mutilate her young daughter, we might also be able to convince her parents not to marry her off at 14. Having a law to ‘back up’ our seminars, and conversations with women and men was a very powerful tool, but it was only one among many, with long-term engagement, trust building, and education being the other most powerful tools.
Why is having a law banning FGM so important?
Having a law banning a practice such as FGM is an essential tool that allows medical professionals, NGOs, and social workers a starting point in the conversation to convince people to change and abandon the practice. Without a law, banning FGM it can be exceedingly difficult to change peoples behaviour. Even if the prevalence or rate of FGM is not yet known, it can be very helpful to have a pre-emtive law banning the practice, to discourage any one from crossing a border to escape repercussions. Of course the implementation of the law is always a potential issue, but holding training sessions for police, doctors, and lawyers when a new law is passed can be a good antidote to this potential problem.
The NGOs that attended the conference were from Baghdad, Maisan, Kirkuk, and Basra, they shared and presented their work, their experiences on topics from early child marriage, violence against women, lack of economic opportunity for women and refugee women, helping children with disabilities, domestic violence. In their breadth of experience and covering a wide region, they were able to highlight the main social issues that their areas were suffering from. The conference allowed for discussions and exchanges of information, and good practices, as well as sharing what approaches were less successful. While none of the NGOs dealt with FGM specifically, they were interested in understanding the importance of pushing for legal equivalency for all of Iraq on this issue.
This conference was very important to see if FGM exists in Central and South of Iraq and to do a survey. So we can legally ban it and spread awareness in society regarding the effects of FGM.
Awezan Nuri from Pana Organization in Kirkuk
The current data on the rate of FGM in central and southern Iraq is outdated, Wadi would also like to eventually conduct surveys to have a more recent study on the rates of FGM in the different provinces in Iraq. Getting good, reliable data is both science and art, and it is an essential first step in seeing if there is a problem or not. During the discussions some members of the participating NGOs some members of participating organizations recalled having heard about cases of FGM in their regions in central and south Iraq. A small scale research done in 2014 in Babel resulted in finding out that around 25% of interviewed women and girls were mutiliated.
“It is difficult and there are many obstacles in front of the teams. During these three days we will explain the obstacles and the mechanism to other organizations and discuss all ways of working.”
Shokh Mohammad from Wadi
However even if after collecting new data there is little or almost no rate of FGM in central and southern Iraq, Wadi will still continue to call for a law banning the practice:
“After the survey and the revelation of the rate of female circumcision, we will start the next phase of work in the Iraqi provinces, which is the phase of awareness and explanation of the harms of circumcision,” Shokh Mohammed elaborated.
“Our overall goal is to ban circumcision in Iraq, as in the Kurdistan Region, within the framework of the laws related to combating domestic violence and gradually eradicate this phenomenon.”
Wadi’s team conducted surveys in both Kirkuk and Nasiriyah provinces in 2012-2014. “We have found that this phenomenon exists, but we would like to conduct a new survey for Baghdad, Basra and Maysan,” Shokh said.
“We are increasing our seminars in areas of Erbil where we suspect FGM still exists,” said Kani Majid of the Wadi team in Erbil.
The Wadi team in Ranya also stressed that there is still circumcision in their areas, but less than before they started their work. (Taken from an article of Kirkuk Now)
If only one area has a law banning the practice, but the surrounding areas do not, there is little to stop parents from taking their young girls on short trips to other areas and having FGM practiced there. Moreover as part of Wadi’s STOP FGM Middle East and Asia campaign the importance of regularly conducting research and collecting data on the practice of FGM is an essential tool in bringing more attention to the fact that FGM is not ‘an African problem’ but a global one, and one that we need to put much more pressure on from passing laws banning the practice, to education and training people at all levels of society on the long-term harm that can be caused by the practice.
Local media reports about the conference