“Whatever the motives behind it, FGM is an act of violence. It has no medical justification, is irreversible and has lasting impact on young girls’ and women’s physical, mental, and sexual health. As women such as Gola S. told Human Rights Watch, girls undergoing the procedure are forcefully held down, their legs pried apart, and part of their genitalia cut off with a razor blade. Often the same blade is used to cut several girls. No anesthesia is applied beforehand and if anything atall is applied to the open wound afterwards, it is water, herbs, cooking oil, or ashes.” (Human Rights Watch, FGM in Iraqi-Kurdistan, 2010)
Projects to combat Female Genitale Mutiliation
Wadi’s groundbreaking FGM projects began in 2004, providing hard data that FGM was being practiced in Northern Iraq and breaking the longstanding idea that FGM was only an African problem. Wadi worked relentlessly to break the social and cultural taboo around talking about FGM publicly. Our women team members put themselves at risk by going on TV shows, and radio programs and publicly talking about FGM. In a conservative country women bravely sharing their personal experiences, was a real risk to their personal reputation (possibly their safety) in order to get the message out there and change public perception.
To go from proving the existence of FGM to having the government pass a law banning it in under 10 years is unheard of. Wadi lobbied on a local and international level to put the spotlight on FGM in Northern Iraq, this was not easy, and many NGOs and agencies working in the field expressed disbelief at the findings. The idea that FGM existed in the Middle East was not readily accepted, infact international bodies such as the UN did not take Wadi’s petition to add Northern Iraq to its list of countries, seriously.
These difficult first years are documented on the StopFGMKurdistan Homepage – as well as the first two researchs we did in Iraqi-Kurdistan and Kirkuk. It has been a milestone when Human Rights Watch started to support this campaign and published their own research in 2010.
Still Wadi persevered and did not waver from the goal of ending FGM in Northern Iraq, even with little funding and support from the international community, our campaign continues. And the results speak for themselves, in 2017 Heartland alliance published an extensive study showing that due to the combination of Wadi’s efforts the rate of FGM in Northern Iraq has shown a steep decline: ‘Among mothers surveyed 44.8% reported be cut compared to 10.7% of their daughters’. In stunning celebratory news in February 2020 new data showed that the practice of FGM has essentially been abandoned in the Garmiyan region. The fight is far from over, as FGM continues to be practiced in other regions.
Following the evidence that FGM is widespread in northern Iraq, in 2005 WADI’s staff initiated the first campaign against FGM in the country. The goal of this campaign was to reach a critical mass of awareness and momentum that would change the social opinion around the value of FGM. This campaign has been ongoing (with ebbs and flows) for the past 15 years. It has taken place in person through our Mobile Teams, on the radio, on TV, in community debates, and most importantly privately in peoples homes. Abandoning a practice such as FGM is most effective when an entire community decides to do it together, so that no one is ‘punished’.
STOP FGM KURDISTAN
As essential as activism and awareness are in a campaign, it is also important to have a legal mechanism, which is why in 2006, WADI organized the first Iraqi conference against FGM in Erbil, later, WADI’s campaign „STOP FGM in Kurdistan“ garnered more than 14,000 signatures for a legal ban of FGM. The petition was presented to the Kurdish Regional Government. At first parliamentarians were hesitant to discuss the topic. Finally in June 2011, the bill against domestic violence which included a legal ban of FGM, was passed by the parliament of the Kurdish Autonomous Region. Through this legal framework we have trained hundreds of policemen, lawyers and judges how to implement the law. This is done in close cooperation with the department of domestic violence – a government body which was created only after the law was passed.
As of yet, there have been no cases taken to trial with the law, the threat of justice has been a deterrent. When our mobile teams train midwifes, they have to sign that they will stop practicing FGM. Our trainers tell them: ‘You didn’t know so far. But now you do. So we will take you to court if we hear that you are not complying with the law’.
Human Rights Watch considered this one of the most successful campaigns in the greater Middles Eastern region during the last decade.
If you take the issue of FGM seriously you CAN effect real change in a decade. Even while facing resistance on many fronts, and no continuous financial support, and sadly little international support.
Our teams continue to work within local structures as much as possible, by coordinating messages on local radio, news outlets, online media, social media, and though direct telephone work. This is an ongoing process, as we remain committed to the fight to end FGM, our work will continue to adapt and our teams to re-evaluate the success of these strategies as we move forward:
“There has not been a single day during the last 15 years, when our teams did not visit a village in Garmian”, says Shokh Mohammed, a team organizer in Wadi’s main office in Sulaymania. She stressed the importance of continuity in the struggle against FGM: “Effects of any campaign will only show in the next generation. If you educate women today they may be shocked of what they did to their daughters, but they will have forgotten when their daughters have children.” (Zero Tolerance for FGM in Iraqi Kurdistan, Women’s Voice Now, February 2020)
These are just some highlights of our 15 year campaign, for more in-depth information on Wadi’s FGM journey please click here.
FGM FREE VILLAGES
The FGM-free village concept was developed to encourage abandoning the practice en masse. We support communities ready for change, and we work to make their voices heard, thus encouraging others to follow.
And the concept worked as for example the Deutsche Welle reported:
“Since Twtakal became a “Free FGM-village,” between 10 to 12 girls have escaped the fate of circumcision. But more importantly, the village opened up to the world, children could get an education and Twtakal set an example for its neighbors.
“At first the other villages joked about Twtakal,” says Falah Murad of WADI. “About the sign of an FGM Free Village, the change of old traditions. But then they saw the small services we provide, and the bigger ones by the government. Now other villages want that too. So now it’s time for the government to pick this up.”
Kak Sarhad is proud. The revolution started with his village, he says. “We have taken it to the forefront. We moved forward, we are more open-minded. I am happy it started from here.”
Villages may join the network and receive support for a small community project in exchange for publicly committing themselves to stop FGM and all violence against women and children.
On the local level, the FGM-free villages had a tremendous impact on neighbouring communities. Many of them asked to become part of the programme as well, and when, due to limited funds, our staff had to decline, they assured they would abandon FGM anyway, since they had been convinced it is harmful and unneccessary.
LIVING WITH FGM
The life-long effects of FGM are a complex issue, with many layers of negative effects that FGM has on an individual and societal level. As part of a holistic approach to tackling FGM in Iraqi Kurdistan, and in response to demand for information and support, Wadi has started working with both women and men living with the effects FGM, in areas where the practice of FGM has been rejected. This pilot project is the second phase of Wadi’s FGM work, and in no way condones the practice of FGM, or sends the message that ‘it’s not that bad if you do this to your daughters, because here are some coping strategies’.
This pilot project is now in its second year and has reached out to people in towns and villages to discuss and share tools on how to live with the emotional and physical aftermath of FGM. Women who are living with FGM also need (and want) support and information on how to deal with other aspects of women’s health such as menstruation and childbirth.
Although this approach is new in Iraqi Kurdistan, there has been some work in diaspora communities in Europe and communities in Africa. Wadi is working to build effective strategies from best practices used in those communities. This project also responds to local demand for more training from social workers and health workers on providing women living with FGM with health information, and emotional/wellbeing tools.
STOP FGM MIDDLE EAST
In 2013, WADI launched the campaign “Stop FGM Middle East & Asia” with the goal of bringing FGM on the international agenda and forming a network of activists who could support each other.
“Female genital mutilation affects far more countries than previously thought, meaning global estimates for the number of women who have been cut are “woefully” low, researchers said.
FGM is traditionally associated with a swathe of African countries, but the study highlights growing evidence that the ritual is also practised in other regions including the Middle East and Asia.” (Reuters, March 2020)
When in 2004 Wadi found first evidence of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Northern Iraq, most people believed that this brutal practice only existed in Africa. We encountered much resistance when bringing the issue of FGM in Iraq to an international audience. It seemed no one wanted to believe that it could exist outside Africa – except Yemen, which was explained by its proximity to the African continent.
We concluded, in face of such resistance it was very plausible that FGM also existed in other places in Asia, but any hints and clues had been ignored. In response we started collecting data. Searching the web and anthropological research, we soon found reliable evidence of FGM being practiced in Oman, the U.A.E., Pakistan, India, Malaysia and Indonesia. We worked to provide Unicef and UNFPA with new information and research. We continue to inform NGOs working on the issue and speak at conferences about the lack of action and interest in FGM worldwide.
Please support this important and ongoing campaign with your donation.
This campaign got support from: US-State Department, UNICEF, Hivos, Consulate General of Germany in Arbil, Roselo Foundation, Dutch Foreign Ministry and many others.