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Shocking statistics on "female genital mutilation"

Female circumcision a good idea? Ask 73 percent of Kurdistani women.

PASHQROTAL, Iraqi Kurdistan — Along with her pink pajamas and playful eyes, Delan has an 11-year-old’s endearing smile. 

She leans against an old stone wall and chats with friends as chickens and geese cluck around her feet. Rocky mountains form a towering backdrop. This is Iraqi Kurdistan, where the people are as tough as their environment.

Sitting on the empty floor of her family’s mud brick home in this remote village, Delan’s smile quickly fades. She speaks of the day, when she was 6 years old, that an “old woman” came to visit.

“I was in the room playing with my cousin and they called us to come,” Delan said. “They cut my cousin. I was very afraid. I was crying and crying. My mother is very fat; I knew if I could run she could not catch me, but she held me too strong. I could not get away. There was a lot of blood from that place. I cried and cried. I hated my mother.”

The tradition of female genital mutilation, or FGM, has survived for centuries in this deeply traditional region of northern Iraq. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), FGM is the “partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons.” Unspoken by society and unquestioned by victims, any mention of the subject is considered taboo.

The women from Delan’s village say the custom is carried out in village homes with the use of a razor blade. The ritual is performed by female relatives or “older women” of the village. Often there is more than one girl, as with Delan and her cousin, and the same blade is used. Delan said no medicine —antiseptic or anesthetic — was given to her. She was sick for two days, but eventually the bleeding stopped.

A report released June 16 by international rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW), has underscored Kurdistan’s legacy of FGM and how caught the region is between its rapid development and an ancient tradition with links to religion and a male-dominated culture.

The HRW report, “They took me and told me nothing,” documents the extent of FGM and calls for action from the Kurdish government. The report found that FGM rates were as high as 73 percent among Kurdish women aged 14 and over.

“The tragedy is that FGM is perpetuated by mothers, aunts and other women who love and want the best for their children,” the report said. The study added that such women see the practice as necessary for their daughters to grow up as “marriageable” and “respectable” members of society.

One mother quoted in the report said: “It is sunnah ... Everyone is doing this. Of course this is a good thing for my daughter. When someone does something, we all have to do it.”

HRW researcher Nadya Khalife said the 31 women interviewed for the report felt it was a religious obligation. Many had no idea of the physical or emotional risks.