Combating female genital mutilation in Iraqi Kurdistan
Kurdish Herald Vol. 1 Issue 4, August 2009 - by Haje Keli
As the first organization in Iraqi Kurdistan to open a women’s shelter, WADI is an authority on women’s issues in the region, an area of great concern to any activist or observer concerned with true democratization and respect for human rights. When the organization’s “Nawa center” opened in 1999, the social acceptance for such an institution was scarce, and the group’s volunteers faced daily challenges of various types. In some people’s eyes, women's shelters are seen as institutions that break up homes, and the female beneficiary is believed by those people to be bringing shame upon her family. Furthermore, even the employees of the organization have faced ridicule for their efforts. Mr. Falah Murad Khan, the director of WADI’s office in Sulaymaniyah, Iraqi Kurdistan, laughingly recalls an incident where he was phoned by an anonymous caller telling him that he should be ashamed that, as a man, he was working on "feminine" affairs. This was after Mr. Khan appeared on a radio show talking about WADI’s efforts to fight female genital mutilation.
The Association for Crisis Assistance and Development Cooperation, WADI - © Kurdish Herald 2009
In a region plagued by various issues of gender discrimination, WADI has devoted much of its efforts as of late to one particular, serious issue: female genital mutilation. This practice involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, which more specifically includes partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora. This painful surgery is customarily performed on women usually between the ages of 4 and 12, without regard for medical concerns or sanitation. The procedure itself is customarily done by a woman using a razor or knife, and no anesthetic is provided. Following the cutting, the woman’s bleeding wound is covered with ash and sometimes icy water is used in an attempt to control bleeding. The victim of this procedure may indeed bleed to death or contract a potential lethal infection.
Regardless of the difficulties facing those who seek to combat female genital mutilation, there is actually a glimmer of hope. The WADI teams have discovered that, after fighting genital mutilation for years, there is now, in some areas, a certain stigma attached to the practice. The younger generation, upon choosing a wife, will ask her if she has been “circumcised”. If she has been, she becomes less desirable because now men know that a woman sexual urges decrease substantially as a result of this mutilation. Many men in the younger generation want their wife to enjoy sex as much as they do.
WADI is taking a special approach in tackling this serious societal
problem, as, year-after-year, they work with the same people. The
people who viewed the film about the genital mutilation were contacted
the following year and the year after to see if they had “changed” their
minds. This approach has the likely affect of giving those contacted
a sense of importance and motivates them to be a more active part
in this focused, individualized effort. At the same time, it provides
for reliable data concerning the efficacy of WADI’s approach
to education on the issue of female genital mutilation. One will
hope that they can continue in their efforts despite the various
obstacles that lie in their way, and receive increased support
from both governmental and non-governmental groups to expand their
efforts. It would be a true victory for Kurdish society if the
practice of female genital mutilation could soon become a thing
of the past.
Source: WADI, translated from Kurdish by Haje Keli © Kurdish Herald 2009