Association for Crisis Assistance and Development Co-operation

Campaigning against Female Genital Mutilation in Kurdistan

Iraqi women are subjected to a strict moral code that dominates their patriarchal society. Most of these rules of social control are an unspoken and deeply-rooted code of rules of behavior. Domestic violence, forced marriages and “honor killings” are the common reality of women in Northern Iraq . They are dependent on their male relatives and subjected to their will. This reality hasn't been publicly discussed and thousands of women suffer in silence. The rate of suicides committed by women in Northern Iraq is very high.

Eine Mitarbeiterin von WADI diskutiert mit Frauen in einem Dorf bei Arbil über Genitalverstümmelung [Foto by WADI]
Images taken from the film "Handful of Ash"

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), like sexuality in general was considered an absolute taboo. In 2004, WADI Garmyan mobile teams succeeded to break the silence and discovered that female genital mutilation is widespread in Northern Iraq. A pilot study gave evidence that 907 out of 1544 questioned women were victims of FGM. FGM was considered an “African practice”. The staffs of WADI Garmyan's were indeed shocked by their discovery. They initiated a large campaign against FGM.

WADI´s campaign against FGM is the first large programme against female genital mutilation in Iraq. Local mobile teams found out that FGM in Northern Iraq is usually practiced by female family members or traditional midwives on girls aged between 4 to 12 years. Instruments like razors and knives are used to cut girls' clitoris according to the “sunnat- excision”. The wound is usually covered by ashes, but no drugs are given. Sometimes girls have to sit into a bowl of icy water.

Women justify this practice either by religion, tradition or medical reasons. Uncircumcised girls are not allowed to serve water or meals. Many women said that their daughter would not be able to be married uncircumcised. Most of the women are not aware of the long-term medical and psychological consequences of FGM. Many girls die because of the operation. FGM is practiced by Muslims, Christians and Kakeys. To date, there is no information about FGM and Yezidi and Jewish community in Iraq.

The major reason for the persistence of this practice is the lack of education and information among the women population that is mostly illiterate. In addition, sexual education is generally not provided to girls and boys by their parents. Youngsters generally marry without any idea about sexuality.

WADI prepared two awareness films about FGM in close cooperation with local cinema directors and women's organizations. One film is used to spread awareness in Iraqi population. A second film called "Handful of Ash" was produced for Europe in order to create awareness in the international community. It had its premiere in 2008.

Eine Mitarbeiterin von WADI diskutiert mit Frauen in einem Dorf bei Arbil über Genitalverstümmelung [Foto by WADI]

The Iraqi awareness film is daily shown to (mostly illiterate) women in Arbil, Kerkuk, Suleymaniah, Halabja, Hauraman and Garmyan region by mobile teams in order to provide information and education. The film shows experts like physicians - but also an Islamic cleric - who condamn the practice of FGM. The film serves as a source of information and as an occasion to get into a discussion with the women at place.After the performance, social workers and nurses of WADI´s mobile teams discuss FGM with the women. The women are invited to ask questions. Special leaflets are distributed and the visited villages take part in a follow-up program. 

The team learned that in many cases, women are all too willing to stop the practice but lack support. Speaking about FGM and their own suffering, about the pain and agony they experienced and let their daughters experience, is only a first but important step. It is usually the first time they ever got the chance to speak about it.

WADI organized the first Iraqi conference against FGM in Arbil in February 2006 and succeeded to attract Kurdish Regional Government's (KRG) interest. The subject will be soon discussed by the Kurdish Regional Government. In spring 2006, additional mobile teams were set in order to expand the campaign and fight FGM in Northern Iraq. Until 2006, more than 4000 women took part in WADI´s campaign against FGM. Supported by the Austrian Development Agency, the Roselo Foundation and the Iraqi Civil Society Program, three teams are currently working all over Kurdistan, informing on the grave physical and psychological injuries that result from FGM. Moreover, they are about to prepare a broad scientific study about causes and prevalence of this practice in Northern Iraq.

WADI’s „STOP FGM in Kurdistan“-campaign is running well now since spring 2007. A coordination bureau has been established in Arbil.

WADI - Association for Crisis Assistance and Development Co-operation
Headquarter: Herborner Str. 62, 60439 Frankfurt/ M, Germany
Tel ++49-69-57002440, Fax: 57002444, Email:

WADI Branches in Iraq:
Sulaimanyah: Tel: 00964-770-1588173
Arbil Office: Tel: 061 -7600305
Homepage: www.wadinet.de