Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Female Genital Mutilation continues in Kurdistan

Human Rights Watch released a new report today, "They Took Me and Told Me Nothing: Female Genital Mutilation in Iraqi Kurdistan" (link goes to HTML overview, report is in PDF format). The 80-page report (page 81 is acknowledgements) documents the continued and widespread practice of FGM in the KRG:

For thousands of girls living in Iraqi Kurdistan (northern Iraq), female genital mutilation (FGM), the removal of parts of the female genitalia for non-medical reasons, is a fact of life. FGM is a conventional social practice seen by many as contributing to girls becoming women, being marriageable, as a religious requirement and as part of their identity as Kurds. An irreversible and painful operation usually carried out by older women, FGM, however has immediate and long-lasting consequences for physical, mental, and sexual health.

The report documents not only the continued practice but the refusal by the Kurdistan Regional Government to not only punish the practice but to even acknowledge it. A (weak) bill within the KRG legislative body never advanced and was not open to discussion. When something is passed, there is no evidence that enforcement ever takes place. As with failure to follow through with turning bills into laws and to enforce the laws that do get passed, attempts at long range plans exist as attention-getting press announcements with no follow ups such as the Ministry of Health's boasting in 2009 of "a five-year strategic plan outling a long-term strategy for intervention" which was quickly and quietly dropped.

In addition, the KRG refuses to collect data on the issue. This may be due to their desire to insist that the widespread practice is actually a minority one. The report cites two studies which demonstrate how widespread the practice is in the KRG.

Why FGM?

A number of reasons are given but fear of female sexuality is at the heart of it. Sometimes it's hidden behind claims that girls who don't go through FGM won't be able to be married, sometimes it's more overt with claims that in the 'hot' climate, without FGM, young females wouldn't be able to control their sexual urges or assertions of "purity."

What some may find most disheartening is that this isn't newly emerging. In other words, the women performing the procedure (midwives) and the mothers and aunts having it performed on their family members have usually experienced it themselves and yet still force a new generation to go through the pain and the danger (which can cause severe problems that we'll get to in a minute). Though they also went through the procedure involving a razor and no medication, weeks of bleeding and pain, they turn around and continue it for the next generations. Sirwa tells HRW, "You must think we are monsters." While Sirwa is a victim of the same culture that the young girls are, it's hard to sympathize with those who should know better but continue and foster a brutal and inhumane procedure.

We'll note this section of the report:

Even later in life, women told us that the memory of their cutting, pain, and the blood still overwhelmed them.
Shelan B., a 26-year-old woman from Kallar, said that she had a very bad experience and continued, "I was seven when I was circumcised. It was me and my cousin. I bled in a way that was not normal. . . . When I remember what happened, I get emotionally tired."
The lack of health care, particularly emergency care, makes FGM -- always unsafe -- a potential death sentence in Kurdistan. When young girls in rural areas, where FGM is most prevalent, are cut and bleed severely, they are unlikely to have access to life-saving care.
Because no official data is kept on deaths associated with FGM -- there is no policy in hospitals of recording whether the cause of death for young girls is related to FGM -- the number of girls who have lost their lives due to the practice remains unknown.
The risk of infection is likely to increase where midwives use unclean cutting instruments, which is a frequent occurrence in Kurdistan, and when the same instrument is used to cut several girls. Since infections are only documented when women seek care, it is difficult to ascertain the extent of these complications. Even where women and girls do seek care, the Ministry of Health does not have policies or guidelines to help hospitals or clinics to systematically document and monitor the health consequences of FGM.
Dr. Fattah Hamarahim Fattah explained that the sexual health consequences of FGM include pain during intercourse, low desire for sex, and less pleasure during intercourse. These long term effects may surface only when a woman marries because that may be her first sexual encounter. Pre-marital sex is socially stigmatized in traditional Muslim societies like Iraqi Kurdistan.
Dr. Atia al-Salihy, an obstetrics and gynecology specialist in Arbil, noted that women who undergo FGM suffer psychologically. She said that when they marry, women may begin to remember the assault on their bodies when they were children, with severe consequences for their sexual and mental health.

40-year-old Kochar was a young girl when she was brutalized. Even so, she tried to run away repeatedly and was "pinned down by three women" for the assault to be performed. She refused to do the same to her own daughter indicating that it is possible to break the chain. The report notes, "Iraq has signed all key international human rights treaties that protect the rights of women and girls, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). These treaties place responsibility and accountability on the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government for any human rights violations that take place in Iraqi Kurdistan, including FGM."

The report has a list of recommendations. Public pressure doesn't make the list; however, it should be noted that the KRG has always been sold as "the other Iraq" and "the safe Iraq." If each marketing attempt (passed off as reporting) on the KRG noted FGM, it would force the government to take action. However, don't expect that to happen. Let's remember that, in its zeal to sell the KRG not all that long ago, Newsweek was insisting that young women being set on fire by their families were doing it to themselves because it was 'cool' and the 'hot' teenage thing to do. In such a climate, it's a bit hard to expect the press to be of much help.

If you doubt that, Ian Black's "Kurdistan pitches to western investors as secure gateway to Iraq" (Guardian) was just published today -- same day as the report. Where in there do you see any acknowledgment of HRW's findings? You don't. Business Week is all over the KRG's oil exports . . . but no time for FGM. The few articles on the new report are either the wire services (such as Reuters) or the few outlets that cover Iraq (Jim Muir covers the report for BBC News).

Reuters notes a Mosul car bombing injured two police officers, an armed clash in Mosul with police shooting dead 1 person, a Mosul suicide car bombing which claimed the life of the driver and left fourteen people wounded and a Baghdad roadside bombing which left three people injured. Tang Danlu (Xinhua) adds a Baghdad liquor store bombing injured four people and a Baghdad car bombing which injured one person. In addition, Lin Li (Xinhua) notes that a Turkish soldier was killed by the PKK on the border between Turkey and Iraq where clashes continue in Sirnak Province (yesterday, another Turkish soldier was killed on the border by the PKK). AFP notes that 3 members of the PKK were killed "overnight" in clashes along the border. We'll note this from "Attacks threaten unusual Turkish outreach to Kurds" (Today's Zaman):

World attention has focused on the nine Turks killed and hundreds detained late last month in the Israeli boarding of a Turkish vessel seeking to break the Gaza blockade. Inside Turkey, fury at the raid has been accompanied by alarm and anger over strikes on army units in the traditionally safer south and north, hundreds of miles from the poor, Kurdish-dominated southeast where the terror fight for autonomy is concentrated.
The public outrage and escalating military response appear likely to derail an already faltering government effort to defuse the Kurdish insurgency by granting unprecedented cultural and political freedoms to Turkey's largest minority group.

Turning to England where Labour, now the minority party in the Parliament, is in the process of selecting a new leader. Newsnight (BBC) featured a debate among the hopefuls. James Macintyre (New Statesman) offers this observation:

One of the most striking elements of the debate was the behavior of Ed Miliband, who left no doubt at all that he is fighting, hard, to beat his own brother and win this contest. He said he wanted to be "prime minister" in his introduction and repeatedly attempted to interrupt David Miliband, on one occasion saying Labour's fortunes were down to "more fundamental" issues than those which were being discussed. He seemed to have had a haircut, wore a smart pink tie and peered straight into the camera, Nick Clegg style, as much as he could.

I'll go with Macintyre, Ed wants it. I was wrong. (As disclosed before, I know David and Ed Miliband. And I've noted before -- wrongly -- I didn't think Ed was serious about wanting the post.) Though David and Ed are not the only two competing for the top post (Diane Abbott, Ed Balls and Andy Burnham are also competing), the 'battling' brothers are garnering the bulk of the press attention. Sify offers "Miliband brothers bitching for Labour leadership." The Sun goes with "Brother of all battles is on" for Tom Newton Dunn's article:

THE Miliband brothers are waging a bitching war against each other as they battle for the Labour leadership, another rival has revealed.
Ed Miliband's supporters have been slagging off his brother David's "eccentric personality".
And David's fans are mocking Ed's "dodgy decision-making", according to former Education Secretary Ed Balls, who is also in the running.

Emma Griffiths live blogged the debate for BBC (and link also has video of the debate). Benedict Brogan (Telegraph of London) breaks from the pack to put the emphasis elsewhere than the Milibands, he dubs the debate "Diane Abbott and the Pimps" and he observes:

The biggest area of contention was the Iraq war. Ed Miliband continued his attempt to exploit the issue by highlighting his newly-discovered opposition. Ed Balls also voiced his doubts, but to his credit pointed out that had he been an MP at the time he would have voted with the Government and for the war. David Miliband rightly pointed out that Labour’s defeat had next to nothing to do with a war that did not stop Labour being re-elected in 2005. The best response though came from Andy Burnham, who stood by the decision, in particular because it strengthened our hand in negotiating with Iran: “We should continue to make a principled argument for what we did and why we did it.”

Allegra Stratton (Guardian) adds:

Ed Miliband came under attack last night when his rivals for the Labour leadership hit out at any attempts to "rewrite history" on the Iraq war.
Ed Miliband, David Miliband, Diane Abbott, Ed Balls and Andy Burnham appeared in the first televised hustings which are due to run into August. Some of the candidates turned on the younger of the two Miliband brothers who in the first few weeks of his candidacy has made much of his opposition to the war. Though he was not an MP at the time of the invasion, Ed Miliband has said he thought UN weapons inspectors should have been given more time.
Ed Miliband told the studio audience of lost Labour voters at BBC2's Newsnight hustings that the broader lesson he drew from Iraq was that war should always be the last resort, to which his brother David Miliband, the shadow foreign secretary, said: "The idea that anyone on this panel doesn't think that war is the last resort doesn't do justice the substance of this issue."

Again, I would hate to be Amitbah Pal. I would hate to be him. And for any who might be sending articles on the debate (several are), priority goes to British community members. And, most important, we don't link to Soros funded 'reporting.'

We'll close with this from the Senate Democratic Policy Committee of Patty Murray addressing the Gulf Disaster:

The e-mail address for this site is