Female Genital Mutilation Reportedly Imposed by ISIS
by Irfan Al-Alawi and Stephen Schwartz
On October 11, the London Independent newspaper revived charges first made last year, by United Nations officials in Iraq, that the Islamic State (ISIS) has called for female genital mutilation (FGM) to be forced on women and girls living in the city of Mosul. ISIS seized Mosul in June 2014 and, almost immediately, reports were heard that the atrocious practice was being imposed.
ISIS itself and various experts dismissed the reports as fabricated, but they were countered by local people in Mosul and Kurdish advocates, who insist the demand is a genuine product of the fanatical "caliphate."
In the Independent's column, Dr. John Chua, an anti-FGM activist affiliated with WADI, a leading human rights group dealing with the issue and based in Germany, wrote that some claimed the religious opinion publicized last year "is a hoax but, whether fake or not, those of us working in this field have to take such threats seriously, not least because anecdotal evidence indicates that many in Mosul believe" it is real. WADI additionally assists women from the Yezidi religious minority who have been kidnapped and held as sex slaves by ISIS.
Last year, Jacqueline Badcock, United Nations deputy humanitarian coordinator in Iraq and based in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), had told media as many as four million women and girls aged 11 to 46 in ISIS-held territory faced the risk of genital mutilation. The U.N. then backed off a formal statement, but that is less than reassuring.
FGM—the crude removal of women's external sexual organs—is not mandated widely in Islam, and is found mainly in Africa, where its victims include girls and women from Muslim, Christian, and animist cultures. Iraqi Kurdistan was, in the past, known for the custom, but the KRG has adopted serious measures against it, criminalizing it in 2011.
Aside from ISIS territory and Iraqi Kurdistan, FGM in Iran has gained new attention in a report distributed by Stop FGM Middle East, a campaign directed by WADI. Titled "Couples in FGM," the document is a survey of 414 married couples in Javanrod, a city in the Kermanshah province of western Iran, conducted by a psychologist, Osman Mahmoudi. It is a pioneering example of empirical research on the effect of FGM on husbands, according to WADI. Of the test sample, in 206 couples the wives had undergone FGM, and in 208 they had not.
Mahmoudi observed that "sexual function and mental health of women who had undergone FGM was lower than in the comparison group. At the same time, he found that husbands of women who have undergone FGM also have lower sexual function, lower mental health and lower marital satisfaction than husbands of women who have not undergone FGM."
In September of this year, a new website was launched, titled Stop FGM Iran, directed by the Iranian FGM investigator Rayeyeh Mozafarian and supported by WADI.
The practice of FGM (as well as transporting a person out of the country for it to be carried out elsewhere) is illegal in the United States and Britain. Similar sanctions exist in Belgium, Canada, Cyprus, Denmark, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, and Sweden, many of which receive numerous immigrants from countries where FGM takes place. France has dealt with the problem under existing legislation. In 2012, the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution against FGM yet it continues nonetheless. Australia criminalized all forms of FGM in 1997 but concluded its first trial for FGM on November 12 of this year. A mother and a retired nurse were found guilty of inflicting FGM on two sisters, who were about seven years old when the acts took place between 2009 and 2012.
The accused women and the victims in the Australian case were members of the Dawoodi Bohra Shia sect, which originates in India. A community leader, Shabbir Mohammedbhai Vaziri, was also found guilty of attempting to obstruct the Australian investigation. The three guilty parties each face sentences of seven years' imprisonment. When the Australian trial began in September, Indian media stated that the small Dawoodi Bohra group, of about 1-2 million in a population of more than 1.25 billion, is unique in India for practicing FGM, and complained that India has not prohibited it legally.
Africa remains a major arena for the struggle against FGM. Officially, FGM had been banned in 18 countries on the continent, the most important being Egypt in 2008 and Nigeria, and the end of May this year. The president of The Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, announced as November came to an end that FGM would be banned there as well. According to the Guardian, 56 percent of girls in the country have undergone genital cutting before age 14.
The Gambia has a population of fewer than two million, according to the CIA World Factbook—compared with 82 million in Iran. But the Iranian government ignores FGM, while The Gambia, seldom mentioned in world affairs, has taken a significant step toward protection of women's rights. The President Jammeh said, reportedly, that The Gambia "is moving into the 21st century and there was no place for FGM in the modern state."