The German-Iraqi non-governmental organization NGO (WADI) has launched steps to transfer the experience of combating Female Genital Mutilation FGM from the Iraqi Kurdistan Region IKR to the middle and southern Iraqi provinces.
Wadi, which has more than 15 years of experience working in the field of combating FGM in the IKR, is organizing a three-day conference from May 15 to 18 in Sulaymaniyah northern province for its teams and a number of NGOs in central and southern Iraq to discuss and exchange views on the issue.
Wadi's first step is to conduct a survey in three Iraqi provinces (Baghdad, Basra and Maysan) to determine the scope of FGM in those provinces, the next step is to eradicate the phenomenon and then ban it through law, said Shokh Mohammed, Wadi ‘s coordinator and public relations PR manager in Iraq.
Wadi also thrives to pass anti-domestic violence law by the Iraqi parliament which has received two drafts since years, one by the Iraqi presidency and another via councl of ministers, both inlcuding an article baning and penalizing FGM across Iraq.
"This three-day discussion is to exchange experience of Wadi teams with NGOs from central and southern Iraq that are scheduled to participate in the survey as partners with Wadi," Mohammed added.
The survey will begin this year following the conference.
On the first day, Wadi teams shared their experiences with organizations in southern and central Iraq, explaining their obstacles and how to work on this issue, a taboo in a conservative society.
Wadi, which means valley in Arabic, Association for crisis Assistance and Development Cooperation, is supporting various projects to empower women and youth in the Middle East since 30 years.
Wadi was founded in the fall of 1991 by various organizations and individuals. The original idea was to found an umbrella organization that coordinates and bundles the activities of various groups and people active in Iraq and Kurdistan.
Its main projects cover rehabilitation for long-term prisoners, literacy programs, education and training for women, public awareness of and fight against domestic violence as well as campaigns against FGM.
Leila Ahmad, from the Wadi team in Garmian, told the story of working on the issue: “What is important is that the teams must simply go among the people and open the discussion.”
"The teams must have legal expertise on the issue of female circumcision to explain the penalties (determined by anti-domestic violence law) for those who practice circumcision," he said.
Chro Omar, a lawyer in Wadi's team, believed that the law, religious leaders and people's understanding of the harms of female circumcision together help eradicate the phenomenon.
“Some clerics have played a very positive role in combating this phenomenon,” she said, citing the example of a cleric in a remote village in Rizgari district of Garmian administration in Sulaymaniyah.
“We saw that circumcision was zero in the village. Later we found out that a cleric had explained to the people that female circumcision had nothing to do with Islam,” she recalls.
In 2010, Wadi conducted an extensive study in the Kurdistan Region to find out the rate of female circumcision, which in some areas reached 70%. Two years later, the organization published the results of a study conducted in Kirkuk province.
According to the study conducted in Kirkuk, in which more than a thousand girls and women participated, it was found that the percentage of women and girls who were subjected to FGM reached 38%, the majority of them are Kurds, followed by Arabs and then Turkmens of both sects, Sunni and Shiite, but no cases of FGM were recorded among Christians.
While a research study conducted by the United Nations UN in 2011 indicated that the rate of female circumcision in the IKR exceeds 44% compared to less than 1% in other Iraqi provinces in the middle and south.
We learned that a cleric had explained to the people that female circumcision had nothing to do with Islam
According to the anti-domestic violence law passed by the Kurdistan Parliament in 2011, female circumcision is considered an act of violence, prohibited and punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of up to 10 million Iraqi dinars IQD (USD750).
Wadi proudly says they played a role in passing the law, especially the provision banning female circumcision and considering it a violent act.
Wadi has been campaigning in the Kurdistan Region since 2005 and sees the ban on female genital mutilation as part of the campaign's achievements.
Press conference by Shokh Mohammer, PR Manager and Coordinator of Wadi in Iraq, about Sulaymaniyah conference.
Another achievement of this experience was the complete elimination of female circumcision in Garmian area in 2017 and in Halabja, south and east of Sulaymaniyah, last year.
“After the survey and the revelation of the rate of female circumcision, we will start the next phase of work in the Iraqi provinces, which is the phase of awareness and explanation of the harms of circumcision,” Mohammed elaborated.
Our overall goal is to ban circumcision in Iraq, as in the Kurdistan Region
“Our overall goal is to ban circumcision in Iraq, as in the Kurdistan Region, within the framework of the laws related to combating domestic violence and gradually eradicate this phenomenon.”
Wadi's team conducted surveys in both Kirkuk and Nasiriyah provinces in 2012-2014. “We have found that this phenomenon exists, but we would like to conduct a new survey for Baghdad, Basra and Maysan,” Shokh said.
“We are increasing our seminars in areas of Erbil where we suspect FGM still exists,” said Kani Majid of the Wadi team in Erbil.
The Wadi team in Ranya also stressed that there is still circumcision in their areas, but less than before they started their work.
Overall, the Wadi teams have shared the challenges they have faced for years with NGOs in central and southern Iraq that are going to become Wadi's partners in the survey they plan to conduct.
“When we started this initiative in Halabja, an Islamic party dominated the region. It was not easy, but I am happy that in 2022 we announced that Halabja free of female genital mutilation," said Hero Ahmad, director of Nwe (New) NGO in Halabja, and a partner of Wadi whom hardly fought against FGM.
“This is our story.”
Wadi’s coordinator and PR manager believes the task is not easy. “It is difficult and there are many obstacles in front of the teams. During these three days we will explain the obstacles and the mechanism to other organizations and discuss all ways of working."
“Then we take steps toward another phase.”