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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

Why Do Women Face Higher Heart Disease Risk after Breast Cancer? Find Out Here!

The cardiovascular effects may occur more than five years after radiation exposure

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Women, Heart Disease, Breast Cancer
Heart disease appears more commonly in women treated for breast cancer because of the toxicities of chemotherapy. Pixabay

Researchers have found that postmenopausal women with breast cancer are at greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

“Heart disease appears more commonly in women treated for breast cancer because of the toxicities of chemotherapy, radiation therapy and use of aromatase inhibitors, which lower estrogen,” said JoAnn Pinkerton, Professor at the University of Virginia.

The cardiovascular effects may occur more than five years after radiation exposure, with the risk persisting for up to 30 years.

“Heart-healthy lifestyle modifications will decrease both the risk of recurrent breast cancer and the risk of developing heart disease,” Pinkerton said.

Women, Heart Disease, Breast Cancer
Researchers have found that postmenopausal women with breast cancer are at greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Pixabay

The goal of the study was to compare and evaluate risk factors for cardiovascular disease in postmenopausal women who are survivors of breast cancer and women without breast cancer.

For the findings, more than 90 postmenopausal breast cancer survivors were compared with 192 postmenopausal women.

The researchers found that postmenopausal women who are survivors of breast cancer showed a markedly stronger association with metabolic syndrome, diabetes, atherosclerosis, hypertriglyceridemia and abdominal obesity, which are major risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

The risk of cardiovascular mortality similarly increased to match death rates from cancer itself.

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“Women should schedule a cardiology consultation when breast cancer is diagnosed and continue with ongoing follow-up after cancer treatments are completed,” she added.

The study was published in the Menopause: The Journal of the North American Menopause Society. (IANS)