Kameel Ahmady: Female Genital Mutilation In Iran (A Research Report)
Kameel Ahmady is a British-Iranian social anthropologist who has worked in international development. This Report is the result of a decade-long field study on female genital mutilation (FGM) which he undertook in Iran.
Ahmady’s comprehensive study investigates, explores, and analyses the existence of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) in Iran. FGM is prevalence in four West Azerbaijan, provinces of Kurdistan, Kermanshah, and Hormozgan. FGM is a longstanding ritual which continues to violate aspects of women’s sexual rights. It prevails in societies because of certain beliefs, norms, attitudes, and political and economic systems. While there is some data available on FGM in Iran, it has been limited in scope.
The aim of this study is to provide in-depth data on FGM in Iran and, at the same time, provide the building blocks for a comprehensive programme to combat FGM in Iran and bring this issue onto the world’s agenda. The communities will benefit from recommendations of this study and for the first time government, individuals, and other NGOs will have access to updated authentic large amount of data about the existence of FGM/C in Iran.
The findings of this study will also contribute to two larger perspectives. Firstly, it will work as a baseline for future studies and research in Iran which is required; secondly, it will help increase awareness about the presence of FGM/C in Iran. On a broader scale, it will also refute the longstanding belief that Africa is the only continent where FGM takes place the same time provide enough evidence so FGM never to be denied again.
The exposure to this fact will assist Iranian society, children right lobby and international organizations in starting a dialogue with the relevant stakeholders in Iran to help address and combat FGM in Iran.
Combating Female Genital Mutilation (also known as Female Genital Cutting, (FGM/C)) is a controversial subject globally, and its elimination is considered an imperative goal by feminists, human rights campaigners and social activists as well as international organisations such as UNICEF and responsible governments.
This study is the result of comprehensive research, begun in 2005, on FGM in Iran. For the first time this research gives a complete overview of the prevalence of FGM in the whole of Iran, with a focus on the most FGM-affected areas in the western part of the country, namely in West Azerbaijan, Kurdistan and the Kermanshah provinces, and in some areas of southern Iran, namely Hormozgan province and its islands.
The study introduces FGM along with the well-known justifications given by the communities that practise it. The first chapter also includes a historical perspective, and looks at the prevalence of the practice across the region and the globe, and the emerging evidence of a reduction in the occurrence of FGM.
The second chapter sheds some light on the presence of FGM in all the affected regions of Iran, focusing on regional variations in the practice, the range of beliefs and reasons underlying it, and also highlight the number of practices/programmes adopted so far to tackle the issue in the specified areas of Iran.
The third chapter brings into the discussion the historical fight against FGM; some legislative measures against it; the role of clerics, the community and government responsibilities; and most importantly men’s perception in this regard.
The final chapter concludes the study with certain relevant recommendations to affected communities, responsible government representatives and the ministries of health, education and social services.
The full Report is available here.
THE WAY FORWARD: RECOMMENDATIONS
The recommendations which follow have been extracted from the findings of a decade long journey of struggle and take into account the opinion of the communities and other stakeholders involved.
- The role of government in combatting FGM is of pre-eminent. Should the government of Iran recognise the practice as a women’s rights violation, it would encourage the community to view FGM not only as a life- threatening practice but also one that is not morally sound. Once the government acknowledges FGM’s existence, developing an effective action plan should be the next step. The government should embrace a rights-based approach to deal with FGM. It is imperative step is to use political discussion and dialogue to synchronise any action plan with the universal human rights commitments. The government should enhance the endeavour to end FGM by responsibility and supervision to national and international organizations. Collaboration with other countries where FGM exists but is in decline will support the government’s efforts.
- The government must work effectively to ensure that measures to fight FGM are merged into national education and health programmes to protect girls and disseminate information about FGM. It is also imperative that the government ratify the existing appropriate international human rights pacts such as Women’s Conventions (CEDAW); the Children Rights Convention; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights Covenant and so on, the Banjul Charter, the European and the American Conventions (Rahman and Toubia, 2000). Ratification of these treaties will be a first step towards social change which should be followed up by reviewing national legislation to bring it into harmony with these treaties. New laws must also be enacted to address FGM. Merging of community efforts with national efforts can bring a sustained end to the practice of FGM. The endorsement of community efforts by state actors will give them courage and strength to continue with their efforts. Besides, the national government should give special attention to the four affected provinces of Hormozgan, West Azerbaijan, Kermanshah, and Kurdistan. A special action plan should be devised with the involvement of the provincial ministries of the respective provinces and authorities.
- National health care services, social services and the education ministry should provide resources in rural areas for communities with limited or no access to the cities. Healthcare services should mainly focus on treating women and girls for FGM-related conditions, provision of training and alternative work to bibis, and creating awareness among communities regarding the evils of FGM. Social services, through the use of mobile teams, should organise meetings and hold face to face sessions with the affected communities, and arrange awareness campaigns including meeting with clerics etc. The education sector should access nurseries and schools to reach out to children and provide them with health-care related information, and also identify girls who already live with FGM.
- Implementation of laws requires immense courage in the Kurdish regions and the south, societies where clerics and influential women can play a provocative role in the name of religion and culture. The role played by religious leaders is among the most influential in its perpetuating FGM, so they need to be persuaded to make a proclamation against FGM in order to empower their communities in the struggle to end the practice. The pilot intervention has provided a platform for religious leaders to speak out against the ritual. These interventions need to continue, which can be ensured through advocacy work with and the lobbying of clerics to persuade them to state clearly that there is no religious basis for FGM. This should become a formal campaign so that the effort can be properly implemented and acknowledged.
- Capacity-building of health providers is also imperative so that they can reach out to women beyond those who come forward because they have FGM-related complications. Health issues related to FGM are embarrassing for women, too, so tend to be hidden and doctors are unable to diagnose and treat them. We need a trained cadre of health professionals who can identify problems, offer counselling and recommend treatment. This was already practised through the mobile health service in pilot interventions. Such interventions merit replication and suitable funding. The government must also enhance the national reproductive health strategies to address women who have already suffered with the ritual of FGM/C.
- Women and girls living with FGM are also more prone to psychological issues and illness than those who have not been ‘cut’, and the severity of psychological conditions depends on multiple factors such as severity of cutting, the cultural context etc. Government recognition of FGM as a women’s rights violation would greatly assist in addressing these concerns. Professional education and training programs should be devised for medical professionals, counsellors and youth workers to understand the seriousness of the issue and to train them in tackling the psychological consequences of FGM in a sensitive and non-judgemental manner.
- Reconstructive surgery can reverse the effects of FGM (Foldès et al., 2012). This study recommends that government should take appropriate measures to introduce such treatments in Iran. It should be covered by a national medical insurance scheme so that poor and vulnerable women can access the surgery.
- Sympathetic local media can change the entire scenario in the context of FGM. The pilot interventions have used the media as an avenue to combat FGM. Media cover of community efforts against FGM would be helpful; online media could, for example, interview clerics and medical professionals about the ill effects of the practice.
- A trained cadre of youngsters is required to engage in effective dialogues using the power of social networking tools. The traditional print media should be encouraged to cover FGM, something government can do by provide an environment for writers to discuss FGM/C without fear of a backlash. Favourable media coverage is essential to speed up the elimination process. Capacity-building is also needed within the media to ensure that journalists are culturally sensitive in their coverage.
- Education officials should produce tailor-made programmes for schools in FGM-affected provinces, taking into account local sensitivities.
- Iran lacks comprehensive national research programme to track FGM. New funding is imperative to build up the monitoring and evaluation competencies in order to streamline and shape interventions. Resource mobilization will ultimately contribute to a paradigm shift regarding FGM/C which will add to bring a sustainable change in social norms. There is an urgent need to strengthen the capacities of the organizations and individuals to employ initiate evidence based research, monitoring, and evaluation on this delicate issue. Besides, Academic Funded research should take a gender and human rights-basedperspective. Producing a nationwide report on FGM with the involvement of healthcare and social services can proved an effective tool to highlight the issue.
- In addition to the role of laws and legislation, we recommend a participatory approach to developments in affected area. Culturally sensitive interventions are necessary for women and girls who have already suffered from FGM/C, and for that, working with communities is a significant part of the effort to prevent and eliminate the practice. Engaging key community influencers and leaders, including men, and providing support for community-based activities to change social norms always brings about durable change(de Souza and Communication, 2007, Shrestha et al., 2014). Furthermore, the involvement of young women as activists will be important in preventing a rite in which women are the direct victims and also the perpetrators.
- Capacities of NGOs and community-based organisations (CBOs) need to be enhanced so that they can perform their role as an agent of change effectively manner. International funding to build local organisations is needed and the government should take the initiative to discuss this with UN agencies. In addition, the Iran-based arms of UNICEF and UNFPA can help empower local organisations in terms of creating awareness of FGM in all its aspects; the UN has the knowledge and expertise to deal with FGM as it is working to eliminate the practice in most FGM-affected countries. This is imperative because local organizations are the one which access communities and work with them; therefore, skilled teams are a pre requisite to contribute to the cause.
It is a conundrum that in Iran the official religion of Iran is the Shia branch of Islam, while the practice of FGM is common among Sunni communities. The government often lacks the trust of communities in Sunni majority areas. The reports and findings of every civil society organizations and NGO go straight to the government with suggestion and recommendations.
The role of government is therefore very crucial in this regard. Lack of cooperation and trust is a massive hurdle to clear in the campaign against FGM. Community actors and government bodies have a duty to address these differences and work together. The government should develop ways to gain the trust and confidence of Sunni communities so that they can appreciate the efforts the government is making to end FGM.