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Shocking statistics on "female genital mutilation"

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

The alleged religious aspects of FGM are a controversial issue within the Islamic community. Some religious leaders believe it is a cultural custom that predates Islam.

At the release of the HRW report in Erbil, Mullah Omar Chngiyani, a religious leader and host of a religious television program, said that within Islam, circumcision for boys is obligatory while for girls it is optional.

“There is no Koran verse that says, ‘circumcise your daughters,’” said Chngiyani, adding that six of his seven daughters and two of his wives had not undergone FGM.

Much of the HRW report was based on a two-year study carried out by the Association for Development Cooperation in Iraq (WADI), released in March.

According to WADI, 42 percent of the mothers interviewed said they had made the choice to perform FGM on their daughters themselves. A further 22 percent were advised by their mother-in-law and 12 percent by their own mothers. Only 2 percent said they were advised by their husbands.

Thomas Van der Osten-Sacken, WADI’s head of mission in Iraq since 1991, said victims suffered physical trauma, a range of medical complications. There can also be devastating effects on the relationship between a child and her mother, he said.

“FGM affects almost every aspect of their lives,” he said.

As security in Iraqi Kurdistan continues to stabilize, development has brought a new way of thinking.

For the younger generation, increased social freedoms constantly clash with restrictive cultural tradition. Views and expectations of love and sexuality are rapidly changing. This collision is perhaps felt most strongly by victims of FGM.

According to the WADI report, the rate among the younger generation is significantly lower overall, yet still relatively high. Among those below 20, 57 percent had undergone FGM, while for those in their 30s the figures climbed to 74 percent. Nearly 96 percent of women over 80 had undergone FGM.

For a woman, the sexual effects can be devastating and confusing. In medical terms, the report says the removal of the clitoris “impairs normal female sexual response.” The practice essentially removes the women’s "sexual organ" but leaves her "reproductive organs" intact.

“The result is generally sad and unsatisfactory sex for both marriage partners,” Osten-Sacken said. “When we enter a village we will often spend the first two hours bombarded by questions from husbands.”

As WADI project coordinator Falah Muradkhan pointed out: “The more you talk about the impact, the more people understand what has been taken from them.”

In collaboration with other non-government agencies, WADI prepared a petition to ban FGM that was presented to the government in March 2007. More than half of the 14,000 signatories were men.