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WADI E.V. | 21.10.2013 . original text

Significant Decrease of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Iraqi-Kurdistan, New Survey Data Shows

In several Iraqi Kurdish regions female genital mutilation (FGM) has declined significantly within a decade.

During the last six months, the Iraqi-German NGO Wadi has collected data on the prevalence of female genital mutilation in the areas of Suleimaniyah, Halabja, Raniya, Goptata and Garmyan. Having discovered in 2004 that FGM was practiced widely, Wadi’s mobile teams developed a village-by-village approach in their campaign to raise awareness among women about the medical and psychological consequences of the practice.

The new data is based on interviews with 5,000 women and girls and indicates that this approach has led to a steep decrease in the practice. While 66 – 99% of women aged 25 and older were found to be mutilated, the percentage in the pertinent age group 6 – 10 was close to zero in Halabja and Garmyan. In both areas FGM was previously practiced widely and where the awareness campaign began first. In Suleimaniyah the rate of mutilation among 6-10 years old girls is at 11%, in Goptapa 21% and in Raniya - Wadi’s most recent operation area where the rate used to be close to 100% - has now dropped to 48%. The usual age for the cuttings is between 4 and 8 years in this region.

In past years Wadi has conducted a comprehensive statistical survey on the overall prevalence of FGM in the Iraqi Kurdish region and found 72% of the adult women to be affected. Since then Wadi’s research has been focusing more on young girls because they provide indications on the current trends. A decrease in FGM among young girls is a strong evidence for FGM being practiced less now. This important information gets blurred when measuring only the overall prevalence.

The new survey is based on oral accounts, not on medical checkups. It should be noted that FGM is now legally banned and women might be inclined to conceal the practice. At the same time, the teams that conducted the interviews are in long-term and close connections to the communities in which they work and have intimate knowledge of the conditions on the ground. The survey, therefore, provides a genuine indication of significant decline in the practice of FGM.

Wadi's teams visit the villages in their respective operation areas on a regular basis. They gather the women and discuss various issues – be it social conflicts, women's rights, female and baby health care, and also FGM. Wadi’s approach is to gradually build up relationships of trust by long-term work within each community and by providing support to the women in their day-to-day problems. FGM is addressed by showing a documentary on FGM in Kurdistan in which a doctor, a mullah and other respected persons speak out against the practice. The film is followed by a discussion and an exchange of opinions. In most cases the discussion will continue for weeks and months.

In addition to face-to-face awareness Wadi is also engaging in advocacy and public mobilization efforts in order to give people a voice, initiate necessary discussions and strive for adaptation of the legal framework. Public action is backing the individual approach.

In 2011, after years of campaigning, the Kurdish regional parliament finally passed a ground-breaking law banning many forms of violence against women and children, including FGM. Since then Wadi, supported by the Dutch Hivos and the German Foreign Ministry, has concentrated on informing the public about the existence of this law and raising awareness about its implications. Wadi trained police officers, conducted midwife trainings, established the first FGM-free villages in Iraq, and consulted for the government on implementation of the law. Public events drew the attention of the media and spread the word about the law.

In their daily work in the villages, Wadi’s mobile teams are telling the people about the law and explain its purpose. In Halabja and Garmyan, the places where Wadi provided the most intensive awareness on the ground, 58% and 39% of the interviewed women respectively report that they know a lot about the law, whereas in Raniya only 8% said so.

The combination of individual and public action has proven effective in bringing substantial change in people's behaviors within a fairly short time. If applied in the rest of the region, FGM can become history within a few years. To achieve this aim cooperation of both local government and international actors is required, including the pertinent UN agencies. At present, nearly a decade after the prevalence of FGM in the region was first made publicly known Wadi continues to work to raise awareness and to reduce the practice on the ground in the rural areas.