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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.

Iraq, Women, Kurdish
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.

Iraq, kurdish
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.

Kurdish
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.

Somalia, kurdish
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

Premature Menopause More Likely to Increase Health Problems After 60

Compared with women who experienced menopause at the age of 50-51 years, women with premature menopause were twice as likely to develop multimorbidity by the age of 60, and three times as likely to develop multimorbidity from the age of 60 onwards

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Bone Health
Women who have already been through menopause may experience problems related to their bone health. Lifetime Stock

Women who experience premature menopause are almost three times more likely to develop multiple, chronic medical problems in their 60s, says a new study.

It is known already that premature menopause, occurring at the age of 40 or younger, is linked to a number of individual medical problems in later life, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

However, there is little information about whether there is also an association between the time of natural menopause and the development of multiple medical conditions known as multimorbidity.

For the findings, published in the journal Human Reproduction, researchers at the University of Queensland followed more than 5,000 women aged 45 to 50 from 1996 until 2016.

“We found that 71 per cent of women with premature menopause had developed multimorbidity by the age of 60 compared with 55 per cent of women who experienced menopause at the age of 50-51,” said study researcher Xiaolin Xu from Zhejiang University in China.

“In addition, 45 per cent of women with premature menopause had developed multimorbidity in their 60s compared with 40 per cent of women who experienced menopause at the age of 50-51,” Xu added.

The women responded to the first survey in 1996 and then answered questionnaires every three years (apart from a two-year interval between the first and second survey) until 2016.

Sexual Dysfunction increases by nearly 30 per cent during perimenopause and vaginal dryness most often has the greatest effect on desire, arousal and overall satisfaction, Here are some Causes. Wikimedia Commons

The women reported whether they had been diagnosed with or treated for any of 11 health problems in the past three years: diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, osteoporosis, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, depression, anxiety or breast cancer.

Women were considered to have multimorbidity if they had two or more of these conditions.

During the 20 years of follow-up, 2.3 per cent of women experienced premature menopause and 55 per cent developed multimorbidity.

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Compared with women who experienced menopause at the age of 50-51 years, women with premature menopause were twice as likely to develop multimorbidity by the age of 60, and three times as likely to develop multimorbidity from the age of 60 onwards.

“Our findings indicate that multimorbidity is common in mid-aged and early-elderly women,” said Indian-origin researcher and study senior author Gita Mishra.

“We also found that premature menopause is associated with a higher incidence of individual chronic conditions,” Xu added. (IANS)