A German-Iraqi NGO that was behind a media campaign that helped ban female genital mutilation (FGM) in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2011 says the campaign can be a global model for banning FGM.
History of Female Genital Mutilation
A commonly held misconception is that female genital mutilation is an Islamic practice because many Islamic mullahs support FGM. In fact, it is not. According to Kurdish scholar, Dr. Merhdad Izady, female circumcision began as a pre-Islamic practice that was meant to be an small offering to gods, just as male circumcision was a small offering in pre-Islamic times.
Over thousands of years, circumcision of men and women was adopted by many cultures, and its original symbolism became lost as circumcision was associated with the religions of these cultures.
Today, people are no longer practicing safe female circumcision, mainly because speaking about the practice has become taboo. As a result, many circumcisions are conducted improperly, or for the wrong reasons, and women and girls are harmed in the process.
Anti-FGM Campaign in the Middle East
Traditionally, Kurdistan has had a high rate of FGM. In 2011, a German-Iraqi NGO called Wadi ran a educational and media campaign educating people in Iraqi Kurdistan about the dangers of FGM. They launched a site called Stop FGM Kurdistan, and publicized the campaign on Kurdish TV. The campaign helped secure the 2011 ban on FGM in the Kurdistan Regional Government.
Now Wadi’s campaign has been copied in neighboring Iran. A website has been launched, and the anti-FGM movement has been able to convince Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s top Shiite cleric, to change his mind on FGM, just as they were able to do with Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
Wadi’s General Manager, Thomas von der Osten-Sacken, is optimistic of the campaign’s ability to be replicated in parts of Asia, the Middle East and Africa, where FGM is practiced. He specifically referenced Oman, Indoneisa, Malaysia, India and Pakistan as Wadi’s next targets.
Not Only About FGM Prevention
In Kurdistan, Wadi has also helped set up partner therapy, where partners can meet with doctors and learn how to have a good partnership and better sex life — even if the woman is mutilated.
Preventing FGM completely will take a mentality shift, and changing the mentality of these folks will take time, says Von der Osten-Sacken. But he’s happy to see that FGM has become a big issue in Kurdish society, one that is no longer taboo.
What Can You Do?
Curious about what you can do to help prevent FGM? Van der Osten-Sacken says that it’s important to talk about the subject, which many people find difficult to discuss. You can forward this article to friends, or direct people to Wadi’s website for more information.[Read more at Rudaw]