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Culture alone fails to account for female genital mutilation

Yifat Susskind [Policy and Communications Director, MADRE]: "The report by Human Rights Watch on female genital mutilation (FGM) in Kurdistan reveals the troubling reality facing women and girls compelled to undergo the procedure. Human Rights Watch references specifically the failure of the Kurdistan Regional Government to take seriously the issue of FGM and to enact legislation to curb the practice.

In investigating this issue, many have sought to demonstrate that Islam does not require this practice and that most Muslims practice their faith without FGM. Others have countered with the reverse, claiming that FGM forms an essential part of traditional culture. This debate about whether or not FGM is "cultural" obscures a fundamental reality: culture alone explains very little. It provides a context but does not serve as a useful explanation for harmful practices against women.

Like all behavior, FGM has a cultural dimension, but its prevalence is equally shaped by social and economic factors (like poverty) and discourses (like women's rights) that can be deployed to either combat or promote FGM. Once we recognize the conditions and discourses that advance women's rights, we can also see how a legacy of US sanctions, invasion and occupation has undermined progress for women. War invariably constricts the civil society spaces where discussions on women's rights could occur.

The work to end the practice of FGM must happen in concert with an effort to re-open and expand spaces for progressive discussion on women's human rights that have been shut down by the reality of war and violence. The Kurdish Regional Government must take a strong stance, but we must also work to eliminate the conditions that hamper the progress of a women's rights movement against FGM and all human rights violations."

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.

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