In Kurdish Iraq, women strive to end genital mutilation

In this photo taken on Saturday, March 28, 2015, displaced Iraqis wait in line to receive food in Baharka camp for Iraqi displaced people outside of Irbil, Iraq. (AP)
Updated 02 January 2019
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In Kurdish Iraq, women strive to end genital mutilation

  • UNICEF’s 2014 survey found 75 percent of women saw their own mothers as the most supportive of cutting

SHARBOTY SAGHIRA, Iraq: Dark skies were threatening rain over an Iraqi Kurdistan village, but one woman refused to budge from outside a house where two girls were at risk of female genital mutilation.
“I know you’re home! I just want to talk,” called out Kurdistan Rasul, 35, a pink headscarf forming a sort of halo around her plump features.
For many, she is an angel: an Iraqi Kurdish activist with the non-profit WADI on a crusade to eradicate female genital mutilation (FGM).
FGM, in which a girl or woman’s genitals are cut or removed, was once extremely common in the Kurdish region, but WADI’s campaigning has chipped away at the practice.
Rasul, who herself was cut at a young age, is helping to eradicate FGM in the village of Sharboty Saghira, east of regional capital Irbil.
She has visited 25 times, challenging its imam on perceptions FGM is mandated by Islam and warning midwives about infections and emotional trauma.
That morning, she used the mosque’s minaret to vaguely invite villagers to discuss their health. When eight women entered the mosque, she patiently described FGM’s dangers.
At the end, a thin woman approached Rasul and said her neighbor was planning to mutilate her two toddlers.
That sent Rasul clambering up the muddy pathway to the house, first knocking then frantically demanding to be allowed in.
But the door remained shut.
“We are changing people’s convictions. That’s why it’s so hard,” Rasul told AFP, reluctantly walking away.

FGM appears to have been practiced for decades in Iraq’s Kurdish region, usually known for more progressive stances on women’s rights.
Victims are usually between four and five years old but are impacted for years by bleeding, extremely reduced sexual sensitivity, tearing during childbirth, and depression.
The procedure can prove fatal, with some girls dying from blood loss or infection.
After years of campaigning, Kurdish authorities banned FGM under a 2011 domestic violence law, slapping perpetrators with up to three years in prison and a roughly $80,000 fine.
The numbers have dropped steadily since.
In 2014, a UN children’s agency (UNICEF) survey found 58.5 percent of women in the Kurdish region had been mutilated.
This year, UNICEF found a lower rate: 37.5 percent of girls aged 15-49 in the Kurdish region had undergone FGM.
It compares with less than one percent across the rest of Iraq, which has no FGM legislation.
“She cut me, I was hurt and cried,” said Shukriyeh, 61, of the day her mother mutilated her more than 50 years ago.
“I was just a child. How could I be angry at my mother?“
Shukriyeh’s six daughters, the youngest of whom is 26, have all been cut too. But with so much campaigning against FGM, they have declined to do the same to their girls.
Years ago, 38-year-old Zeinab allowed female relatives to cut her eldest daughter, then three.
“I was so scared that I stayed far away and came to wash her after they cut her,” she recalled, squirming.
After WADI’s sessions, she protected her other two daughters from mutilation.
“At the time I accepted (it), but now I wouldn’t. Yes, I regret it. But what can I do now?“

Rasul told AFP it was hard to combat a form of gender-based violence that women themselves practiced.
“Young men and women agree FGM should stop. But after we leave a village, older women talk to them and tell them: ‘be careful, that NGO wants to spread problems,’” she said.
UNICEF’s 2014 survey found 75 percent of women saw their own mothers as the most supportive of cutting.
“I tell these women: this is violence that you’re carrying out with your own hands — women against women,” said Rasul.
That proximity has also made FGM victims less likely to seek justice.
“The 2011 law isn’t being used because girls won’t file a complaint against their mothers or fathers,” said Parwin Hassan, who heads the Kurdish Regional Government’s anti-FGM unit.
Hassan has wanted to work on the issue since she narrowly escaped it: her mother pulled her away from their midwife after a last-minute change of heart.
“I’ve been working on women’s issues since 1991, but this is the most painful for me. That’s why I promised to eradicate it completely,” she told AFP.
She said Kurdish authorities would unveil a strategy next year to strengthen the 2011 law and carry out more awareness campaigns.
And for its part, the UN expects it can better fight FGM in 2019, partly due to the reduced threat posed by the Daesh group.
After Daesh emerged in 2014, UN agencies scrambled to deal with displaced families and combat operations, said UNICEF gender-based violence specialist Ivana Chapcakova.
“Now that the acute emergency is over, we can regroup to have that final push toward making FGM a thing of the past everywhere in Iraq,” she told AFP.


Turkey’s Erdogan croons on campaign trail

Updated 20 March 2019
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Turkey’s Erdogan croons on campaign trail

  • Erdogan has deployed theme songs played on speakers at rallies in past elections
  • Music has always been a powerful tool in Turkish politics

ISTANBUL: In a decade and a half in power, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has often turned to oratory skills that are the envy of his foes to rouse supporters with speeches, poems and stories.
Now the Turkish leader is picking up the microphone to sing, complete with hand gestures, to rally supporters of his ruling AKP party for March 31 local elections.
Music has always been a powerful tool in Turkish politics, but with Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), it has now become one more way to galvanize his support base before a potentially tricky vote.
With Turkey in recession and inflation in double digits, the AKP is turning up the nationalist rhetoric to try to win over voters hurt by high living costs.
“I get goose bumps when I listen to the songs everyday,” said Ilknur Can, at an Erdogan rally in Istanbul’s Kasimpasa district, where the president grew up.
“I really understand, through this music, what patriotism is,” she added.
Erdogan’s critics say he has eroded rights by cracking down on dissent at home.
But for supporters, his electoral style taps into their image of Erdogan as the strong leader Turkey needs who speaks for them.
In this month’s municipal elections, the AKP will likely remain the largest party even if some experts say it could win by a smaller percentage of the vote.

Music is everywhere in Turkey, blaring out in taxis, shops and restaurants. Political events also have regular, and often extremely loud music.
The Turkish leader has deployed theme songs played on speakers at rallies in past elections, which have kept him in power since 2003.
But in the upcoming polls, it is Erdogan himself who is singing at almost every rally.
“Nereden nereye geldi Turkiye” (“From where Turkey came to where we are now“) Erdogan crooned from the stage at a recent event.
The song repeats a line from his election campaign tune about how far Turkey has developed under his rule.
“He already has an organic connection with his grassroots, but these songs are a new strategy to widen support,” associate professor Dogan Gurpinar, of Istanbul Technical University, said.
Political events have also been the subject of songs.
After a failed 2016 coup against Erdogan, one song had the lyrics: “Democracy took a blow and the nation was puzzled... the commander-in-chief gave the order: Take to the squares.”
That was a reference to Erdogan’s call during the coup attempt for loyalists to take to the streets.
Another song entitled “Dombra” chants the president’s name, drawing cheers from party faithful.
“I am over the moon whenever I listen to Nereden Nereye,” said supporter Ayse Duru, as she sang along to Erdogan’s recent campaign song.

The composer of Erdogan’s latest campaign tune and performer of it when the president himself isn’t singing it is Turkish pop singer Altan Cetin.
“It was not hard for me to write (the AKP song) and put it into a project. Believe me, it can sometimes be even more difficult to do a pop song,” he told AFP in his studio in Istanbul.
Cetin said that it took almost a month to finish.
“Our president uses every instrument of politics very successfully and very professionally,” he said.
In Europe, it is rare for a candidate to sing at election rallies.
But in the United States, former president Barack Obama sometimes sang on the campaign trail, and in 1992, Bill Clinton famously played the saxophone before an audience — helping to cement his popularity with young voters.
Late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez also often broke into song at rallies and speeches, rousing supporters with the national anthem or folksongs.
Cetin said that music was “like a glue” for people that “brings them closer.”
“Music is about synchronization. It creates a sincerity, a unity and a power with everyone who feels it.”

Cetin said that he wrote what he had “lived through” in Turkey, saying he was happy to see the country’s leader singing his music.
“A president accompanying a song with a microphone in his hand in a rally is a source of pride for the song’s composer,” he said.
Gurpinar, of the Istanbul Technical University, said that music was the most direct way to reach people.
“Turkey is a country that looks for tools to reach out to the masses more easily compared to other Western states,” he said.
Compared to the AKP, the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) often struggles to establish similar bonds with its old school, left-leaning, protest song repertoire, Gurpinar said.
However the CHP is now also trying to attract more voters with modern songs — one is a rap tune by two young amateur musicians.
“It can have power only when the music and candidate merge,” CHP’s Istanbul candidate Ekrem Imamoglu told AFP when asked about music’s role.
But he said that positive expressions like music should replace heated rhetoric.
“I wish we would see and feel such nice things in politics,” he said. “We are happy with our songs. Honestly, I didn’t listen to the others.”