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Kurdish Iraq Strives To End Female Genital Mutilation

The U.N. expects it can better fight FGM in 2019, partly because of the reduced threat posed by the Islamic State group. 

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Kurdish
Kurdistan Rasul, center, an Iraqi Kurdish activist with the nonprofit organization WADI, speaks to women and young girls about the harms of genital mutilation in Sharboty Saghira, a small village east of Irbil, Dec. 3, 2018. VOA

Dark skies were threatening rain over an Iraqi Kurdistan village, but one woman refused to budge from outside a house where two girls were at risk of female genital mutilation.

“I know you’re home! I just want to talk,” called out Kurdistan Rasul, 35, a pink headscarf forming a sort of halo around her plump features.

For many, she is an angel — an Iraqi Kurdish activist with the Germany-based nonprofit Association for Crisis Assistance and Development Cooperation (WADI), on a crusade to eradicate female genital mutilation (FGM).

FGM, in which a girl or woman’s genitals are cut or removed, was once extremely common in the Kurdish region, but WADI’s campaigning has reduced the practice.

Rasul, who herself was cut at a young age, is helping to eradicate FGM in the village of Sharboty Saghira, east of the regional capital, Irbil.

She has visited 25 times, challenging its imam on perceptions FGM is mandated by Islam and warning midwives about infections and emotional trauma.

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Women and young girls listen to Kurdistan Rasul (not pictured), an Iraqi Kurdish activist with the NGO WADI, as she speaks about the harm of genital mutilation in Sharboty Saghira, Iraq, Dec. 3, 2018. VOA

That morning, she used the mosque’s minaret to vaguely invite villagers to discuss their health. When eight women entered the mosque, she patiently described FGM’s dangers.

At the end, a thin woman approached Rasul and said her neighbor was planning to mutilate her two toddlers

That sent Rasul clambering up the muddy pathway to the house, first knocking, then frantically demanding to be allowed in.

But the door remained shut.

“We are changing people’s convictions. That’s why it’s so hard,” Rasul told AFP, reluctantly walking away.

‘Just a child’ 

FGM appears to have been practiced for decades in Iraq’s Kurdish region, usually known for more progressive stances on women’s rights.

Victims are usually between 4 and 5 years old but are affected for years by bleeding, extremely reduced sexual sensitivity, tearing during childbirth, and depression.

The procedure can prove fatal, with some girls dying from blood loss or infection.

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Women and young girls listen to Kurdistan Rasul (not pictured), an Iraqi Kurdish activist with the nonprofit organization WADI, as she speaks about the harms of genital mutilation in Sharboty Saghira, Iraq, Dec. 3, 2018. VOA

After years of campaigning, Kurdish authorities banned FGM under a 2011 domestic violence law, slapping perpetrators with up to three years in prison and a roughly $80,000 fine.

The numbers have dropped steadily since.

In 2014, a U.N. children’s agency (UNICEF) survey found 58.5 percent of women in the Kurdish region had been mutilated.

This year, UNICEF found a lower rate: 37.5 percent of girls aged 15-49 in the Kurdish region had undergone FGM.

It compares with less than 1 percent across the rest of Iraq, which has no FGM legislation.

“She cut me, I was hurt and cried,” said Shukriyeh, 61, of the day her mother mutilated her more than 50 years ago.

“I was just a child. How could I be angry at my mother?”

Shukriyeh’s six daughters, the youngest of whom is 26, have all been cut, too. But with so much campaigning against FGM, they have declined to do the same to their girls.

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Women and young girls listen to Kurdistan Rasul (not pictured), an Iraqi Kurdish activist with the nonprofit organization WADI, as she speaks about the harms of genital mutilation in Sharboty Saghira, Iraq, Dec. 3, 2018. Female genital mutilation appears to have been practiced for decades in Iraq’s Kurdish region, usually known for more progressive stances on women’s rights. VOA

Years ago, Zeinab, 38. allowed female relatives to cut her eldest daughter, then 3.

“I was so scared that I stayed far away and came to wash her after they cut her,” she recalled, squirming.

After WADI’s sessions, she protected her other two daughters from mutilation.

“At the time I accepted [it], but now I wouldn’t. Yes, I regret it. But what can I do now?”

‘Women against women’

Rasul told AFP it was hard to combat a form of gender-based violence that women themselves practiced.

“Young men and women agree FGM should stop. But after we leave a village, older women talk to them and tell them: ‘Be careful, that NGO wants to spread problems,’ ” she said.

UNICEF’s 2014 survey found 75 percent of women saw their own mothers as the most supportive of cutting.

“I tell these women: This is violence that you’re carrying out with your own hands — women against women,” said Rasul.

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FILE – A badge reads “The power of labor aginst FGM” is seen on a volunteer during a conference on International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation in Cairo, Egypt. VOA

That proximity has also made FGM victims less likely to seek justice.

“The 2011 law isn’t being used because girls won’t file a complaint against their mothers or fathers,” said Parwin Hassan, who heads the Kurdish Regional Government’s anti-FGM unit.

Hassan has wanted to work on the issue since she narrowly escaped it: Her mother pulled her away from their midwife after a last-minute change of heart.

“I’ve been working on women’s issues since 1991, but this is the most painful for me. That’s why I promised to eradicate it completely,” she told AFP.

Also Read: The Risk of FGM Hangs Above British Schoolgirls During Holiday Break

She said Kurdish authorities would unveil a strategy next year to strengthen the 2011 law and carry out more awareness campaigns.

And for its part, the U.N. expects it can better fight FGM in 2019, partly because of the reduced threat posed by the Islamic State group.

After IS emerged in 2014, U.N. agencies scrambled to deal with displaced families and combat operations, said UNICEF gender-based violence specialist Ivana Chapcakova.

“Now that the acute emergency is over, we can regroup to have that final push towards making FGM a thing of the past everywhere in Iraq,” she told AFP. (VOA)

Next Story

Women who Exercise Vigorously Face Lower Mortality Risk, Says New Study

"The best situation is to have normal heart performance during exercise and good exercise capacity," Peteiro added

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Heart
Regular exercise is highly beneficial for all patients with Heart disease regardless of age, a new study has said, adding that patients who benefited most from cardiac rehabilitation were those who started out with the greatest physical impairment. Pixabay

Women who exercise vigorously are at significantly lower risk of dying from heart disease, cancer and other causes, reveals a new study.

The study, presented at EuroEcho 2019, a scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC), examined exercise capacity and heart function during exercise in women and their links with survival.

The study included over 4,000 adult women referred for treadmill exercise echocardiography because of known or suspected coronary artery disease.

“Exercise as much as you can. Fitness protects against death from any cause,” said study author Jesus Peteiro from University Hospital A Coruna in Spain.

For the findings, participants walked or ran on a treadmill, gradually increasing the intensity, and continuing until exhaustion.

Images of the heart were generated during the test. Fitness was defined as a maximal workload of 10 metabolic equivalents (METs), which is equal to walking fast up four flights of stairs or very fast up three flights, without stopping.

Women who achieved 10 METs or more (good exercise capacity) were compared to those achieving less than 10 METs (poor exercise capacity).

During a median follow-up of 4.6 years there were 345 cardiovascular deaths, 164 cancer deaths, and 203 deaths from other causes.

After adjusting for factors that could influence the relationship, METs were significantly associated with lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other causes.

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Regular jogging was found to be the best type of exercise. Pixabay

The annual rate of death from cardiovascular disease was nearly four times higher in women with poor, compared to good, exercise capacity (2.2 per cent versus 0.6 per cent).

Annual cancer deaths were doubled in patients with poor, compared to good, exercise capacity (0.9 per cent versus 0.4 per cent).

The annual rate of death from other causes was more than four times higher in those with poor, compared to good, exercise capacity (1.4 per cent vs 0.3 per cent).

“Good exercise capacity predicted lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other causes,” Peteiro said.

The researcher noted that most study participants were middle aged or older women: the average age was 64 and 80 per cent were between 50 and 75.

“The results were the same for women over 60 and less than 60 although the group under 50 was small,” said Peteiro.

Regarding imaging of the heart, the researchers assessed function of the left ventricle (one of the heart’s pumping chambers) during the exercise test.

Patients with poor heart function during exercise had a higher probability of death from cardiovascular disease during follow-up.

Also Read: Beti Bachao Can’t Just be Relegated to a Campaign, Says Actress Shilpa Shetty

Heart function during exercise did not predict the likelihood of death from cancer or other causes.

“Looking at both examinations together, women whose heart works normally during exercise are unlikely to have a cardiovascular event. But if their exercise capacity is poor, they are still at risk of death from cancer or other causes,” Peteiro said.

“The best situation is to have normal heart performance during exercise and good exercise capacity,” Peteiro added. (IANS)