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.


Beirut praises ‘progress’ on maritime border dispute

Updated 21 May 2019
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Beirut praises ‘progress’ on maritime border dispute

  • Israel and Lebanon both claim ownership of an 860-square-kilometer area of the Mediterranean Sea.
  • Lebanon insists that the area lies within its economic zone and refuses to give up a single part of it

BEIRUT: Lebanon has hinted that progress is being made in efforts to resolve its maritime border dispute with Israel following the return of a US mediator from talks with Israeli officials.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield returned to Lebanon following talks in Israel where he outlined Lebanese demands regarding the disputed area and the mechanism to reach a settlement.

The US mediator has signaled a new push to resolve the dispute after meetings with both Lebanese and Israeli officials.

Israel and Lebanon both claim ownership of an 860-square-kilometer area of the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon hopes to begin offshore oil and gas production in the offshore Block 9 as it grapples with an economic crisis.

A source close to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who met with Satterfield on Monday after his return to Lebanon, told Arab News that “there is progress in the efforts, but the discussion is not yet over.” He did not provide further details.

Sources close to the Lebanese presidency confirmed that Lebanon is counting on the US to help solve the demarcation dispute and would like to accelerate the process to allow exploration for oil and gas to begin in the disputed area.

Companies that will handle the exploration require stability in the area before they start working, the sources said.

Previous efforts by Satterfield to end the dispute failed in 2012 and again last year after Lebanon rejected a proposal by US diplomat Frederick Hoff that offered 65 percent of the disputed area to Lebanon and 35 percent to Israel. Lebanon insisted that the area lies within its economic zone and refused to give up a single part of it.

Satterfield has acknowledged Lebanon’s ownership of around 500 sq km of the disputed 850 sq km area.

Lebanon renewed its commitment to a mechanism for setting the negotiations in motion, including the formation of a tripartite committee with representatives of Lebanon, Israel and the UN, in addition to the participation of the US mediator. Beirut also repeated its refusal to negotiate directly with Israel.

Two months ago, Lebanon launched a marine environmental survey in blocks 4 and 9 in Lebanese waters to allow a consortium of French, Italian and Russian companies to begin oil and gas exploration in the area.