Newsletter #103 – FGM Kurdish Style

“Dropping the Knife” is a 2013 BBC documentary aimed at exposing the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Kurdistan. The trailer starts:

“Kurdistan, the safest and most prosperous region of Iraq.  But for years, the country  harbored a secret.  Many of its women have been cut in the name of religion.  Few in the outside world knew that female genital mutilation existed here until a charity launched a campaign with the help of local filmmakers to tell women’s stories.”

The documentary addresses the social, cultural, and religious beliefs that support the practice of FGM.  The film pointedly asks whether “enough is being done to end the practice in Kurdistan” since only very recently have steps been taken to halt this savage, dehumanizing practice.

Studies by the Human Rights Ministry of Iraqi Kurdistan, WADI (a German-Iraqi human and women’s rights organization) put the numbers anywhere from 40.7% – 57% of girls that have been mutilated.  A  more recent and larger study conducted in the city of Erbil found a self-reported incidence of 70% but a lower 58.6% upon examination but nonetheless concluded that “[p]revalence of female genital mutilation among Muslim Kurdish women in Erbil city is very high.”

Women interviewed for a 2010 Human Rights report on FGM in Kurdistan gave the following reasons for FGM:

It is linked to Kurdish cultural identity [of tribal honor/shame]

It is a religious imperative [a practice permitted by Islam]

It is necessary to control women’s sexuality; and

It is carried out as a result of social pressure [of Islamic mores]

The report notes that while FGM is not addressed in the Quran [but is in Hadith or the traditions of Mohammed], some interpretations of Islamic law followed by the majority of Iraqi Kurds, makes FGM permissible for girls. The report includes reference to a hadith that “mentions the Prophet Muhammad telling a woman who had been circumcising girls ‘to cut only a little’ thus, according to these clerics, Mohammed did not ban the practice and FGM is permitted.

Although FGM was banned in 2011, Human Rights Watch reported one year later that the Kurdistan Regional Government had done nothing to enforce the law.  More recently though, there have been reports that awareness raising campaigns are having a positive impact.

FGM in Tennessee

The “Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act of 1996” was introduced by Democrats Sen. Thelma Harper and Rep. Lois DeBerry (deceased).  Their bill stated the following reasons about why Tennessee needed a bill to protect women from the FGM assault:

WHEREAS, female genital mutilation is defended by both men and women in the cultures where it is practiced as a rite of passage and a social prerequisite of marriage as well as a method to control a woman’s sexuality; and

            WHEREAS, while female genital mutilation is prevalent in many African and Middle Eastern countries, it also is found in some Asian countries and among immigrant populations in Western Europe and North America; and

            WHEREAS, due to the immigration of people from countries where female genital mutilation is practiced, the mutilation has continued to take place in the United States. Usually the immigrants will either send their daughters back to the native country to have female genital mutilation performed or a group of them will pay to bring a midwife to the United States  to perform the painful procedure on their young daughters…”

The “immigrants” referenced in the preamble to the legislation filed by the Democrats were most likely   correlated to the influx of refugees being brought to Tennessee by the refugee resettlement federal contractors.

Despite being a crime in Tennessee since 1996, 21 cases of FGM in Tennessee were reported last year. Legislation passed by the Tennessee General Assembly last year now requires that healthcare providers report cases of FGM to law enforcement.

We hope word has spread to Catholic Charities and the other refugee resettlement agencies as well as Nashville’s “Little Kurdistan” and that the local Muslims are aware and speaking out against this barbaric sexual mutilation, helping their community learn that some customs are better left behind in the old country.