Monday, December 29, 2008

Female mutiliation in Iraq

Sheelan Anwar Omer, a shy 7-year-old Kurdish girl, bounded into her neighbor's house with an ear-to-ear smile, looking for the party her mother had promised.
There was no celebration. Instead, a local woman quickly locked a rusty red door behind Sheelan, who looked bewildered when her mother ordered the girl to remove her underpants. Sheelan began to whimper, then tremble, while the women pushed apart her legs and a midwife raised a stainless-steel razor blade in the air. "I do this in the name of Allah!" she intoned.
As the midwife sliced off part of Sheelan's genitals, the girl let out a high-pitched wail heard throughout the neighborhood. As she carried the sobbing child back home, Sheelan's mother smiled with pride.

The above is from Amit R. Paley's "For Kurdish Girls, a Painful Ancient Ritual: The Widespread Practice of Female Circumcision in Iraq's North Highlights The Plight of Women in a Region Often Seen as More Socially Progressive" (Washington Post) and there's a link there for Andrea Bruce's photo essay with a note that the photos are graphic. (I would say photos six through ten are the most difficult to look at, my opinion.) Paley reports that in the Kurdish region over 60% of females have been circumcised. That figure is in keeping with WADI was providing in 2005. WADI notes:

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is one important mechanism, among others, of tight social control over women. Through the work of Wadi's mobile team in Germain region, it has been discovered that FGM is common in this area. A pilot study shown that 907 out of 1544 women questioned in the survey were victims of FGM. Through this local survey a taboo has bees been broken. FGM had been considered an 'African problem', unspoken of in these parts of Iraq.
Following the evidence the FGM is widespread in Northern Iraq, WADI's staff initiated the first campaign against FGM in the country. Local mobile teams found out that FGM in Northern Iraq is usually practiced by female family members or traditional midwives on girls aged between 4 to 12 years. Instruments like razors and knives are used to cut girls' clitoris according to the "sunnat - excision". The wound is usually covered with ash, but no drugs are given. Sometimes girls have to sit into a bowl of icy water. Women justify this practice either by religion, tradition or medical reasons. Uncircumcised girls are not allowed to serve water or meals. Many women said that their daughter would not be able to be married uncircumcised. Most of the women are not aware of the long-term medical and psychological consequences of FGM.
WADI prepared two awareness films about FGM in close cooperation with local cinema directors and women's organizations. One film is used to spread awareness in Iraqi population. The film is shown daily by the mobile teams across Northern Iraq, giving information and an opportunity to discuss the problem. A second film will be shown in Europe in 2008.
WADI organized the first Iraqi conference against FGM in Arbil in February 2006, which was successful in attracting the interest of Kurdish Regional Government's (KRG) interest.
WADI's campaign "STOP FGM in Kurdistan" obtained more than 14 000 signatures for a petition to ban FGM presented to the Kurdish Regional Government. Recommendations for a law to ban FGM in Iraqi Kurdistan were prepared by local specialists and members of WADI´s mobile teams and presented to KRG in spring 2007. Wadi presented the law recommandations also to Kurdish women's parliament. The bill is now in the legislation process in the regional parliament.
In summer 2007, additional mobile teams were set in order expand the campaign and fight FGM in Northern Iraq. Until 2006, more than 4000 women took part in WADI's campaign against FGM. Supported by the Swiss Caritas, the Austrian Development Agency, the Roselo Foundation and the Iraqi Civil Society Programme, six teams are currently working all over Kurdistan. A comprehensive research of FGM and its practice in Iraq is now in preparation.
In February 2008 "A handful of ash", Wadi's documentary about FGM in Iraqi Kurdistan produced by a local director was presented in Germany for the first time. Additional screenings are scheduled for Mars in Switzerland and in Germany.

Those who would like audio can refer to Jessie Graham's The World (PRI) report on the female circumcision in the Kurdish region from January 2006. Nicholas Birch's "Female circumcision surfaces in Iraq" (Christian Science Monitor, August 10, 2005) noted the reaction of some to WADI's study: "When WADI presented the results of its survey in Vienna this spring, Mr. [Thomas von der] Osten-Sacken recalls, various Iraqi groups accused the group of being an agent of the Israelis. Even the Iraqi Kurdish authorities, who have backed efforts to combat FGM since the late 1990s, were rattled."

MP Pakshan Zangana tells the Post, "When the Kurdish people were fighting for our independence, women participated as full members in the underground resistance. But now that we have won our freedom, the position of women has been pushed backwards and crimes against us are minimized." A statment that's universal for women everywhere (including the US). Specifically on circumcision, Paley reports:

Women's rights groups in Kurdistan are working eagerly to change the perception that the procedure is harmless and that it is required under Islam. They go to villages in rural areas where the practice is most ingrained and tell women and religious leaders of the physical and psychological damage the circumcision can cause. Health experts say the procedure can result in adverse medical consequences for women, including infections, chronic pain and increased risks during childbirth.

More of Andrea Bruce's Iraq photography -- on other topics -- can be seen here.
In today's New York Times, Sam Dagher files from Iraq and his report includes noting the following:

In Baghdad, an American soldier died of wounds sustained by the explosion of a homemade bomb, the military said in a statement.
Turkish warplanes bombed several sites near Iraq's northern border that had been used by the Kurdish rebel group the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or P.K.K., according to a rebel spokesman. He said there were no casualties.
Elsewhere, two prisoners who remained free after a deadly prison break that left 13 dead in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, were caught by the Iraqi police early on Sunday.

Bonnie reminds that Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "Princess Brat Speaks" went up Sunday morning. The e-mail address for this site is

the new york times