Iraq

Female Genital Mutilation in Kurdistan

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The Washington Post has a disturbing story about the prevalence of female genital mutilation in Kurdistan:

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….

"This is the practice of the Kurdish people for as long as anyone can remember," said the mother, Aisha Hameed, 30, a housewife in this ethnically mixed town about 100 miles north of Baghdad. "We don't know why we do it, but we will never stop because Islam and our elders require it."

Kurdistan is the only known part of Iraq—and one of the few places in the world—where female circumcision is widespread. More than 60 percent of women in Kurdish areas of northern Iraq have been circumcised, according to a study conducted this year. In at least one Kurdish territory, 95 percent of women have undergone the practice, which human rights groups call female genital mutilation.

The practice, and the Kurdish parliament's refusal to outlaw it, highlight the plight of women in a region with a reputation for having a more progressive society than the rest of Iraq. Advocates for women point to the increasing frequency of honor killings against women and female self-immolations in Kurdistan this year as further evidence that women in the area still face significant obstacles, despite efforts to raise public awareness of circumcision and violence against women….

[Activist Pakshan] Zangana has been lobbying for a law in Kurdistan, a semiautonomous region with its own government, that would impose jail terms of up to 10 years on those who carry out or facilitate female circumcision. But the legislation has been stalled in parliament for nearly a year, because of what women's advocates believe is reluctance by senior Kurdish leaders to draw international public attention to the little-noticed tradition.

The Kurdish region's minister of human rights, Yousif Mohammad Aziz, said he didn't think the issue required action by parliament. "Not every small problem in the community has to have a law dealing with it," he said.

Read the whole thing here.

The history of female circumcision is complicated and only tangentially related to religion (it predated Islam, for instance, is not commanded by the Koran, and is banned in various Islamic societies).

In 2006, Reason asked, "Can freedom flower in Kurdistan?" and were guardedly optimistic that it could. But as long as scenes such as the one above are common, I'm thinking no way.

As readers of Ayaan Hirsi Ali's memoir, Infidel, can attest, among the most disturbing elements of such practices are the explicit urge to violently control female sexuality (even when the act is mostly symbolic, that's the function it performs) and the way it is enforced by other women. (Read Reason's interview with Hirsi Ali here). Say what you will about widespread male circumcision in the West (and elsewhere, for that matter), but it is not performed as a ritual of punishment defined to rigidify unequal standing in sexual, cultural, economic, and political matters.