New Law Criminalizing Female Genital Mutilation in Iraq
Tuesday, January 8, 2008 3:28 PM

In Arbil, a women's caucus in the Iraqi Kurdish parliament is pushing through legislation criminalizing female genital mutilation (FGM).  The bill, which will most likely be passed by February, is the first of its kind in the Middle East.  Since the early 1990’s, a handful of local Iraqi Kurd women's organizations have struggled for greater awareness of the issue. 

While FGM has widely been considered an African phenomenon, affecting up to 90% of women in Egypt, Sudan and Somalia, it has happened to a lesser extent throughout the Middle East, particularly in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Iraq.  Some Muslims attribute the so-called 'Sunna' circumcisions to a tradition taught by the Prophet Mohammed.  According to the Shafi'i school of Islamic law, to which Kurds belong, circumcision is obligatory for both men and women.

In 2005, WADI, a German non-governmental organization, conducted a survey of 39 villages in the Germian region, east of Kirkuk.  The results showed that over 60% of the 1,554 women and girls aged older than 10 interviewed had undergone the operation.  Since then larger surveys have shown that the practice is prevalent among local Arabs and Turkmen, as well as Kurds.  While the tradition is openly practiced in parts of Africa, the practice is done in secrecy in these regions.  Women and girls have been circumcised for reasons varying from religious belief to tradition.  Some locals assert that the food an uncircumcised woman cooks is unclean.  They also claim that that the operation makes a girl more affectionate to her family.

Until recently Iraqi Kurdish authorities, while largely supportive of campaigns against it, have sometimes been tentative in their resolve to take action.  However, in April of 2007, 14,000 people signed a petition for a law against FGM.  Since then, both the region's main parties have given their blessing to the law.

Compiled from:An End to Female Genital Cutting?,” Nicholas Birch/Arbil, TIME in partnership with CNN, 4 January 2008.