By Ben Tidwell
While the prevalence of female genital mutiliation (FGM) in Iraq (8%) means it does not enter the conversation frequently, rates in Iraqi Kurdistan are estimated to be between 60-70%. (Sources here and here.)
Human rights activists wanted to avoid accusations that campaigns against FGM abused the culture, traditions, and religion of Iraqi Kurds, so international NGOs encouraged the Kurdish parliament to pass a law outlawing FGM, which succeeded in 2011. Enforcement has been lacking, but NGOs are working to educate people about the law.
Opposition from some Islamic leaders in the region has been strong, though others have issued fatwas urging that the practice is not required in Islam. Some have therefore hesitated to challenge the practice, seeing such an act as the worst kind of cultural and religious imperialism.
However, our recent study of the drivers of FGM in the Chamchamal district, a relatively poor and conservative area, has shown that religious beliefs and knowledge of the law were among the least significant determinants, while knowledge of health consequences and perceived social norms were the main drivers of behavior.
We must seek to eradicate this harmful practice with passion, cultural sensitivity, and careful study of the true reasons for its persistence.
Ben Tidwell, MPH, is health program manager for Samaritan's Purse, Iraq.