Two new studies shed more light on the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the Middle East. For the first time, a study explores whether FGM is practiced in Syria – and comes to the conclusion that no evidence of its existence can be found.
Another study explores the history of FGM in the region of Ahwaz in the South-Western Iranian state of Khuzestan. Through talking to older women the PhD-student Susie Latham found that FGM was common in this region but has been abandoned completely without any official program in place. Furthermore, she found that it was first replaced by a milder form before the practice was stopped entirely.
“Collectively, the information suggests that before about 1945, all girls around Ahwaz were routinely subject to Type II FGC. The pattern of cutting across the generations strongly suggests a transition to less severe cutting before the practice finally stopped, although individual families did not necessarily need to pass through each stage.”
Latham found that women in the beginning of the 1950s only underwent Type I FGM, while the practice stopped entirely by the mid to late 1950s.
Instructions against FGM came from a higher religious authority
The reason for abandonment seems to have been interference by religious authorities according to her interview partner. “Every single woman who gave a reason for the abandonment of FGC said that it was the result of an Islamic ruling. Some just knew that it had become haram, but others said that a religious authority had said so in the mosque and that this had been communicated through the men to the women. In my husband’s town, the current imam confirmed reports by three old women that his father had decreed FGC should end, saying the instructions came from a higher religious authority.”
Latham also discusses in her paper how her findings contradict common strategies against FGM. Rightly, she notes that the importance of religious rulings is underestimated by UN and international NGOs. Religious rulings she assumes may not only be of great importance for the practice in Iran, but also in Africa from where she cites examples from Senegal and Somalia proving her point.
Her further thoughts lead her to the suggestion that moving to milder forms of FGM may be a better option than the current Zero-Tolerance approach by the UN and others and could more successfully lead to a total abandonment.
This is an interesting reasoning and quite different from the usual defenders of medicalization who see it as the lesser evil. Latham does not defend more Sunna types as the lesser evil and points out that it is unclear what exactly Sunna female genital cutting is. She sees the promotion of milder forms as a strategy to total abandonment and stresses the importance of agency by local communities.
However, her suggestion must still be rejected as being too general and not applicable in most places. She does not take a closer look on the consequences of medicalization as her example from Iran was not based on medicalization but apparently on the decisions of traditional cutter “to cut less”.
Moving to milder forms as it is promoted today by defenders of medicalization, however, has the opposite effect: FGM becomes more acceptable and can even spread. Thus abandonment becomes less likely.
Nevertheless, Latham’s study gives valuable new insights into the topic and her thoughts about current approaches being too standardized are worthwhile discussing.
No evidence of FGM in Syria
Researchers Diana Geraci and Jaqueline Muslders, on the other hand, looked into the existence of FGM in Syria. Rumors existed that FGM was indeed practiced in the region of Homs and maybe even other places. Even though no evidence existed and no Syrian woman had ever spoken out on it its existence seemed plausible because the Syrian Sunni population adheres to the Sha’afi law school which officially considers female genital cutting a duty.
The researcher team applied a number of methods to verify or falsify these rumors scanning grey literature, asking refugees, midwives, gynecologists and NGOs working in the field. They did not find any evidence that FGM is practiced in Syria today or was in the last 60 years. The value of this research lies also in its discussion of ethnic and relgious correlation: “The possible relation between ethnicity (Kurdish) and law school (Shafi’i) and FGM is too precarious to draw any conclusions for Syria. The Kurdish people in Syria speak a different language than the Kurdish people in Iran and Iraq where FGM is a known practice. And not all communities where Shafi’i law school is dominate practice FGM.”
A recent survey among Sunni religous scholars in the Iranian province of Kermansheh shows that a majority of them (67%) believe that “female circumcision” is religiously obligatory or at least recommended for girls and women. In this province in the West of Iran, female genital mutilation (FGM) is practiced by Sunni Kurds who adhere to the Shafi’i law school. Many of them believe that Islam commands them to have their girls cut.
In recent years, the issue of FGM has been raised in Iran by a number of activists through media (radio and internet) and a conference in Teheran. In the province of Kermansheh regular lectures for parents and couples were held and information material warning of negative effacts was distributed. Furthermore, educational programs in Iraqi Kurdish media (TV and radio) about FGM also reach an audience in the Kurdish speaking communities in Iran.
There is good reason to believe that these campaigns have let to a change in attitudes among the population towards FGM. Rates have dropped from 31% in 2010 to 18% in 2014 in the province of Kermansheh, according to a comprehensive study on FGM by Kamel Ahmady.
Yet, even tough educational programs have an effect on people’s attitutes, religious opinions (fatwas) play an important role as well. In reaction to the campaigns against FGM, a number of mullahs have voiced their opinion against FGM while others defended the practice. However, it was not at all clear which opinion the majority of mullahs tends to.
Now, the Hamraz counseling center of Javanrood (Kermansheh, Iran) has conducted a survey among 81 religious leaders and asked them about their opinion on FGM.
The results show that FGM is still justified by a majority of mullahs as a religious deed. Only a small minority of 4% believed that it is not an Islamic practice (not Sunna). The vast majority stated that it is Islamic. More than a third (35%) sees it as recommended or Sunna (the right path), but do not call it an obligation. Yet, almost as many (32%) say it must be done. To substantiate this view, a number of Hadiths (accounts of the prophet’s life and sayings) are referred to and a small number of mullahs even falsely believes that the Holy Quran itself calls for female genital cutting.
However, there is also a highly ambiguous group of 23% who take the seemingly contradicting position of calling it obligatory and Sunna, but say it is not necessary in their opinion. The author of the study, Osman Mahmoudi, interprets this “as a sign of change within the religious establishment or a reaction towards changing opinions in society.”
Mahmoudi points out, that “on the other hand, knowledge of negative consequences exists.” A majority (54%) have heard of different negative effects like psychological problems, infections and marital problems. He concludes that “awareness campaigns have at least partly reached their audience. This is also shown by the answers to question 7 where 34% answered that the decrease of FGM is due to awareness raising through media and research.”
He finds this contradiction highly alerting: “The results imply, that one and the same mullah may know about negative health effects and still defend the practice as a religiously good deed.”
Yet, the mullahs distance themselves from modern science as is shown by the results of question 6 where 46% chose one of the answers which prioritize religion over scientific research and medical studies. “Only 19% take the position that FGM should not be done if doctors and psychologists show that it leads to complications.”
The study concludes “that education about negative health effects of FGM does not lead to a rejection of the practice if strong religious beliefs stand in the way. Medical studies seem to be rejected by a vast majority of mullahs if they contradict their religious believes, thus scientific results are simply not believed.”
Short film of Razor and Tradition was produced by STOP FGM Iran and directed by Rayehe Mozafarian who published the book with the same name and subject.
please visit www.stopfgmiran.com in English and Persian
The practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) affects Kurdish women and girls in the Iranian province of Kermanshah and continues within a complex web of social, cultural and economic justification. It is medically unnecessary and has adverse physical, sexual and psychosocial consequences.
Many Kurdish health care practitioners have little knowledge or experience of the cultural and health issues relevant to FGM. The provision of appropriate health care for girls, women and couples victim of FGM needs to be based in an understanding of the issues and beliefs which have accommodated the continuation of the practices.
Health care and promotion for these population may involve addressing long held beliefs about FGM, including those related to health, hygiene, personal philosophy and traditional practices.
Prevention of the practice in Kermanshah must also involve education about the negative consequences. Health care professionals have an important contribution to make through the provision of health information and health promotion.
To reach out to health care professionals, Osman Mahmoudi and Muhammad Rauf Amini published a book on FGM in the first half of 2016. In the first step more than 1000 copies of this book were distributed during Ramadan month among doctors, midwives, psychologists and counselors who live in the cities of Javanrood, Paveh, Rawansar and Salas.
The booklet has been produced to increase awareness and understanding of some of the issues around FGM and includes these information:
The Committee considered the combined third and fourth periodic reports of the Islamic Republic of Iran (CRC/C/IRN/3-4) at its 2055th and 2057th meetings (see CRC/C/SR.2055 and 2057), held on 11 and 12 January 2015, and adopted the following concluding observations at its 2104th meeting (see CRC/C/SR.2104), held on 29 January 2016.
Female Genital Mutilation footmark in south of Iran
On the occasion of International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, we are featuring a background on the practice of FGM in the province of Hormozgan in Southern Iran. Our partner Rayehe Mozafarian who has done a study in that region is reporting about her encounters with traditional midwifes.
By Rayehe Mozafarian
Minab is a city in and the capital of Minab County, Hormozganprovince, Iran. The population are mainly Shia`a Muslims but a Sunni minority does exist.
Women’s circumcision is one of the health problems in some societies. It is the excision and removal of different sections of women’s genitalia based on cultural aims or nonmedical reasons, which are done in four different grades.
More than 13 years ago, Homa Ahadi published a study about “the prevalence of FGM in Minab”. This study was performed to determine the knowledge and attitude of women in fertility age in Minab about women’s circumcision in the year 2002. In this descriptive-analytic study, 400 women in Minab health centers were selected as samples by non-accidental and objective-oriented sampling. Needed data were gathered by a researcher-made questionnaire to assess knowledge and attitude through a semi structured interview and also by checklist. Data were analyzed by T-test, chi-square and one-sided variance analysis. Prevalence of circumcision were 70%. Between them 87.4% were grade one and 12.6% were grade two. Mean and standard deviation of knowledge number in circumcised group were 2.1 ± 1.6 and in uncircumcised group were 3.05 ± 1.7. The knowledge level in majority of samples were weak and their attitude were «No Idea». Results indicates the necessity for informing people in the region and raising awareness about FGM.
Following this research, I traveled to several villages in the area to find more information that FGM is still happening there or not. The most important factor in promoting this tradition can be considered the presence of women in the name of Daye and mothers who still tend to circumcise their daughters. There are restraints on factors that can help to stop this practice in the areas of: public awareness through the media, doctors, teachers and above all religious leaders.
Although Female Genital Mutilation continues to varying degrees in Hormozgan province, but some other local Daye are not engaged to perform this action any more. In an interview with some Dayes they claimed that about thirty years ago they were eager to do this, but because of the advices of doctors and Shiite religious local leaders this operation is not common anymore at this time, although they use their skills for maternal health care for pregnant women. Most of them explain the way they conduct the operation with their hands and the tip of the index finger. They cut a small part of the tip of the clitoris. The prevalence of FGM in Iran can be estimated to be much higher among the Sunnis than among Shiites. In the villages with Sunni population, most of girls still circumcise in the name of tradition. The highest prevalence of FGM in Iran is estimated in Hormozgan province and on Qeshm Island. There is at least one Daye in most villages of this island who have enough experience to circumcise.
During my travel for finding more information about FGM, I understood that the driver and his wife are Shiites and they have decided to circumcise their 4 years old daughter. Daye refused them two times because the size of her clitoris was not big enough and it was “not ready yet”. I went to visit the Daye with the Driver`s wife and their daughter. This Daye is Sunni and still circumcises the girls. She believes that although circumcision is not mentioned in the Quran girls should be circumcised like boys.
Razor and betadine are the tools which she uses. She explains that she cuts the skin piece of the tip of the clitoris. The place of cutting is slightly bleeding. Then she cleans the clitoris with alcohol and betadine. It will be burning during urination for 3 or 4 days. She believes that FGM leads the girls to become true Muslims and during their lives, they can read the Quran and the food and water that is taken from them, is lawful. She circumcised their daughters too: “I circumcise my daughter then the other girls, I circumcise my granddaughters then the others. In this tradition, there is no difference between Sunni and Shiite. The followers of both religions circumcise their daughters.” She takes 1.5 dollars for each operation. If someone cannot pay this amount, she will do it for free.
Most Daye have learned to do FGM from their mother or grandmother, because there was no doctor and physician in the past. The girls are circumcised at different ages and this difference depends on how large or small the clitoris is.
I asked the driver`s wife why she so insists on circumcising her daughter? She explains that because this operation is an ancient tradition and “I like to circumcise my daughter as I was circumcised.” She also believes that this tradition is used to prevent caprice. She says: “The person must be satisfied to work with razor”.
6th of February is an International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation. 29 countries are on the list of countries where this practice is still widespread. Iran and more than 10 other countries are not considered on the list of WHO and UNICEF. In some areas of south and west of Iran FGM is still happening. But some articles projected in the Penal Code can be used to criminalize FGM:
Article 704: Removing the power of male reproduction or ejaculation or removing women pregnancy or eliminate sexual pleasure is liable to Arsh*.
Arsh: The amount of money as financial compensation or body that is not specified in the law and will pay to damaged person.
Article 707: The complete elimination of intercourse cause complete Diyya (Blood money).
Diyya is the financial compensation paid to the victim or heirs of a victim in the cases of murder, bodily harm or property damage. It is an alternative punishment to Qisas (equal retaliation).
Article 708: The elimination or permanent or temporary impairment of the senses or other interests, Such as touch, sleep and periods as well as the creation of diseases such as tremors, thirst, hunger, fear and fainting is liable to Arsh.
Article 664: Cutting and removing any of the sides of the female genital organs is result in half full Diyya and cutting and removing part of it estimate as well as punishment.