[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] called on the government of Iraqi Kurdistan to outlaw female genital mutilation (FGM) [WHO backgrounder] in a report [materials; press release] published Wednesday. The report, "They Took Me and Told Me Nothing," calls on the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) [official website] to develop a comprehensive legislative plan to reduce FGM in the region and to ensure that it is enforced and in compliance with all international anti-discrimination treaties that are binding upon the KRG. According to the report, the comprehensive strategy should include a ban on performing FGM on children and non-consenting adults and programs to raise awareness of the negative impact of the practice. HRW also urged the Iraqi government to work with the KRG to develop an anti-FGM policy and provide medical and social support to the victims of the practice. HRW emphasized the complexity of ending FGM in a society due to the status of the practice in the cultures that practice it and the belief among some practitioners that it is a requirement of Islam. HRW stated:
FGM poses a difficult challenge for the government and people of Iraqi Kurdistan. It is a complex issue to address, its eradication requiring strong leadership from the authorities and partnerships across the political spectrum and with religious leaders, nongovernmental organizations, and communities to bring about social change. First and foremost, it requires Iraqi Kurds in positions of leadership and influence to recognize and accept that FGM is a problem, one that can be addressed through concerted action that will reinforce Iraqi Kurdistan's reputation as a society committed to the protection of the rights of women and children, and a society in which Muslims practice their faith without FGM, as is the case with the majority of Muslims across the world.
According to the report, 57 percent of women in Iraqi Kurdistan have had some form of FGM performed on them, a practice that is recognized as a form of violence against women. The report went on to encourage the KRG to uphold its history of protecting and promoting women's rights, including outlawing reduced sentencing for honor killings [AI backgrounder] and a requirement that 30 percent of the Kurdistan Parliament [official website, in Persian] be women.
As many as 140 million women and girls worldwide have undergone some form of FGM, which is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) [official website] as "all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or injury to the female genital organs for nonmedical reasons." The KRG has taken steps in the past to reduce FGM. In 2008, a majority of the members of the Kurdistan Parliament supported the introduction of legislation banning the practice, although the legislation was not pursued. In 2007, the KRG Justice Ministry [official website] issued a decree ordering police to charge those found practicing FGM, but this was never enforced. Iraqi Kurdistan is one of the few regions in the Middle East where FGM is practiced, along with some communities in Yemen. The practice of FGM is most common on the African continent, where a 2005 UNICEF report [text, PDF] found near universal prevalence in countries such as Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia and Mali, and lower rates in surrounding nations. In December, Uganda's parliament voted to outlaw the practice [JURIST report].