Day of Zero Tolerance: Iraqi Kurdistan Government pledges to eliminate FGM

In Iraq Kurdistan this years Day of Zero Tolerance towards Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Febuary 6th, can be celebrated true to its word. If the government lives up to its announcements, there is indeed the chance that FGM will be reduced to zero percent by 2028.

Such announcements came at a UNFPA-organized expert meeting on FGM in Alexandria, Egypt, where representatives of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq and the UN Population Fund UNFPA stated their aim to reduce female genital mutilation (FGM) to zero within the next five to ten years.

UNFPA Iraq analyst Kara Agha presented a comprehensive action plan at the November meeting; The planned measures are to be implemented primarily by the government.

Wadi welcomes this plan as a convincing step in the long-running campaign against FGM in Iraqi-Kurdistan.

The action plan includes almost every measure Wadi’s staff has proposed to the government over the past decade, from mosque sermons to parent meetings.

Wadi has been fighting FGM in Iraqi Kurdistan since 2004 – since we became aware of this brutal practice.

The struggle was not easy in the beginning. Not only the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), but also the UN initially denied the existence of the practice.

This has changed over the years. In 2011, Parliament passed a law criminalizing FGM. The government set up an agency to handle domestic violence and FGM. UNICEF supported Wadi’s campaign to raise awareness about FGM for a good year. But then UNICEF ran out of money – and otherwise no one seemed to be interested in the topic.

Therefore, we were delighted to note that the UN Population Fund invited UNFPA to a regional expert meeting in Alexandria. The first two conferences on female genital mutilation in the Middle East were organized by Wadi together with Hivos in 2012 and 2014. Unlike us, UNFPA did not invite any representatives from Iran and Oman. But after all, the UN organization had now recognized that the problem can not be discusses only within the African context.

At the meeting, Dr. Raizan Hussein from the Kurdish Ministry of Health presented the figures of the latest study from 2016 and declared that the government plans to bring the rate of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Kurdistan to zero.

The presented study by Unicef ​​and Heartland shows that the rate of declines has dropped significantly since the beginning of the Wadi-led awareness campaign in 2006.

In the study, 44.8 percent of the mothers surveyed said they were genitally mutilated. But only 10 percent have their daughters undergo this procedure. Especially in the provinces of Suleymania and Halabja, where Wadi’s campaign started, the rates have fallen significantly. Only in the province of Erbil, where awareness raising began only four years ago, the rate is still close to 20 percent.

This is strong evidence that Wadi’s approach to tackle all sectors of society with various measures has worked.

The Kurdish government has understood this. Yet, it is also evident that the government can achieve much more in sectors civil society can not reach. Wadi has made many suggestions to this respect in the past years, also together with UNICEF.

These measures will now be fully implemented with the help of UNFPA. The most important roles are assigned to the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health.

The Ministry of Religion is to instruct all mullahs to preach about the ban on female genital mutilation in Islam. Such an instruction is not unusual: in Iraqi Kurdistan as in many other Islamic countries the Ministry of Religion provides the topics for the sermons. However, there has never been such an instruction in any country concerning female genital mutilation.

Since many people in Kurdistan and elsewhere where FGM is practiced believe it to be a religious duty, the mullahs‘ attitude to this brutal practice plays a crucial role.

However, according to the Action Plan, the mullahs should not only preach, but ask community members to raise their hands when they are ready to abolish FGM in their families.

The Ministry of Education should provide training for teachers in all schools. Teachers should educate parents about FGM and ask parents for a signed statement that they will not cut their daughters.

The Ministry of Health will be teaching staff at the primary health care centers how to talk to young parents about the risks of FGM. These centers can be found throughout the country, even in remote rural areas where services like children’s vaccinations are provided. The nurses are expected to warn of FGM at each vaccination appointment and ask the mothers whether circumcision has taken place anyway – possibly against the mother’s will. Thereby, data should be collected that can provide information on where more awareness raising is necessary.

The Justice and Interior Ministries are to call on police and prosecutors to look for violations of the FGM ban – and bring them to justice.

Finally, the government intends to ask the mayors to distribute educational material about FGM in their municipalities. The mayors should also appoint a children’s ambassador in their community, who should volunteer for the needs of children.

These measures are an ideal complement to Wadi’s awareness campaign.

However, experience has shown that, especially when it comes to violence against women and children, government measures are implemented inadequately.

We will take the government at their word and remind them to pursue their ambitious goal with full consequence: to make Kurdistan FGM-free by 2028.

Hannah Wettig

Coordinator of „Stop FGM Mideast Campaign