A great case study comes from the Kurdish region of Northern Iraq, which is currently considered one of the world leaders in female genital mutilation eradication. Aid organizations there first discovered that the practice was occurring in 2003 as workers fanned out to the countryside in anticipation of a refugee crisis following the U.S. invasion and toppling of Saddam Hussein. The refugees never came, but aid workers got an earful about what was happening to girls in the village.
Eight years later, in 2011, the Kurdish regional government passed law banning female genital mutilation. It was the result of an arduous, around the clock, and controversial campaign to push the politicians into action, led by WADI, a small Iraqi–German NGO. Along the way, activists faced death threats and had their personal reputations smeared. But they were ecstatic when they finally emerged victorious.
Yet today, four years after the law was passed, Kurdistan has yet to see the first person fined or jailed in connection with practicing female genital mutilation. “We fought so hard for the law, but as soon as it was passed, we realized that the fight had only begun,” Arvid Vormann, a program manager at WADI told me.
Even so, in some villages in the Kurdish region, mutilation is down by more than 40 percent, and nearly a dozen villages have officially adopted a label of “FGM-free” for several years now, a practice first started in Africa. Aid workers thus argue that the symbolism of the legislative victory was worth the effort, even if it is now clear that it was mostly the campaign itself—and not the legislation—that moved the needle.