Iraqi Kurdistan: Law Banning FGM Not Being Enforced

(Erbil) – The practice of female genital mutilation continues in the Kurdistan region of Iraq a year after a landmark law banning it went into effect because the Kurdistan Regional Government has not taken steps to implement the law. The Family Violence Law, which went into effect on August 11, 2011, includes several provisions to eradicate female genital mutilation (FGM), recognized internationally as a form of violence against women.

The regional government has begun to run awareness campaigns, train judges, and issue orders to police on the articles of the law dealing with domestic violence. But it apparently has not taken similar steps to implement the FGM ban, Human Rights Watch found. Between late May and mid-August, 2012, Human Rights Watch spoke with over 60 villagers, policemen, government officials, lawyers, and human rights workers in the districts of Chamachamal, Choman, Erbil, Penjwin, Pishdar, Rania, Soran, Shaqlawa, and Sulaimaniya about the problem.

“The KRG parliament took a huge step forward when it passed the Family Violence Law,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Authorities now need to begin the difficult process of putting a comprehensive plan in place to implement the law, including informing the public, police, and health professionals about the ban on FGM.”

In June 2010, Human Rights Watch issued an 81-page report, "They Took Me and Told Me Nothing: Female Genital Mutilation in Iraqi Kurdistan," which urged the Kurdistan Regional Government, parliament, civil society, and donors to take steps to end the practice. The report described the experiences of young girls and women who undergo FGM and the terrible toll it takes on their physical and mental health. The KRG parliament passed the Family Violence Law in June 2011.

In the recent interviews, Human Rights Watch spoke with more than 20 villagers who had daughters in the age range when FGM is traditionally performed – between ages 4 and 12. Some said they were no longer intending to have the procedure performed on their daughters, as a result of awareness campaigns conducted by representatives of nongovernmental organizations who had visited their villages, but a few said they planned to have the procedure done. None had seen any action or awareness efforts by the government.

“Okay, so there’s a law now, so people don’t talk about it as much now, but if people in my village or another village want to have it done to their girls, they can easily still do it secretly,” said a woman from Rania.

Several police officers told Human Rights Watch that their superiors had not given them any instructions or explanation of the ban on FGM. The head of an Interior Ministry directorate tasked with tracking violence against women confirmed to Human Rights Watch that no such instructions or explanation had yet been given.

The highest Muslim authority in Iraqi Kurdistan issued a fatwa in July 2010 saying that Islam does not require female genital mutilation. But after parliament passed the Family Violence Law, Mullah Ismael Sosaae, a religious leader, gave a Friday sermon in Erbil demanding that the KRG president, Massoud Barzani, refuse to sign it into law. Barzani did not sign it, but allowed the law to go into effect when it was published in the government’s Official Gazette (#132) on August 11, 2011. Critics in the Kurdish region say that this was an effort by Barzani to avoid confrontation with religious leaders like Sosaae while allowing the bill to become a law, but that this approach sent the message that those against the law could continue to undermine it.

Members of parliament and civil society activists have criticized the government’s lack of action, and say the practice remains prevalent, particularly in areas such as Rania, Haji Awa, and Qalat Diza.

“We don’t have a problem passing laws here in the KRG, but implementation is another matter entirely, especially when the law is controversial like this one,” Kwestan Abdullah, a member of the Women’s Affairs Committee in the KRG parliament, told Human Rights Watch. “The Family Violence Law, in almost all its aspects, has not yet begun to support women on the ground, and this is especially true of the FGM issue. Nothing is happening, and no one is even really talking about plans to implement it.”

The Kurdistan Regional Government should take concrete steps to enforce the law banning female genital mutilation, Human Rights Watch said. This should include providing training to police, courts, and regional officials to enforce the law.

So-called community midwives, women with no formal medical training but who help with births and also carry out FGM, are not licensed and so fall outside the Health Ministry’s purview. Any eradication effort would have to involve community midwives and should include helping them find alternative sources of income, Human Rights Watch said.

The Ministry for Endowments and Religious Affairs should include religious leaders in training and awareness-raising on the imperative to end violence against women and girls, including FGM, Human Rights Watch said. The ministry should include information about the July 2010 fatwa in all information and training sessions. A complaints mechanism should be established for people to inform the ministry when clerics continue to preach that FGM is a religious obligation.


(To read original article, visit this Human Rights Watch link)

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