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FGM in the Middle East

by Zuhair Ahmed

by Zuhair Ahmed

A Start

Less than ten years ago, there was only anecdotal evidence of the existence of female genital mutilation in countries of the Middle East in Western Asia. Officially, it was considered an “African problem” with both governments and the United Nations denying its existence in Asia.

One exception was Yemen: Because of its proximity to Africa and historically strong links to the African continent it was concluded that the “tradition” had swept over. Studies about FGM in Yemen have been undertaken since more than ten years and the Yemeni government pled to combat it with an action plan. Yet, women’s activists and experts criticize that few actions were taken and not much has changed.

For the rest of the Middle Eastern countries, scientific evidence slowly surfaced that could not be rejected. In Iraq, WADI was able to conduct two studies about the prevalence in Northern Iraq and initiated a campaign against the practice. After the Ministry of Health of the Kurdish Autonomous Region published its own study with similar findings, parliament passed a law prohibiting FGM.

In the Gulf region, so far only individuals have come forwards with addressing the issue. In Oman, a lively debate among bloggers unfolded demanding the government to take action. In the United Arab Emirates, a student conducted a survey for her graduation project and found 34 percent of the questioned women to be circumcised. A study in Kuwait found 38% FGM-cases among 4800 pregnant women.

An informational article about health consequences in a Jordanian newspaper hints that some people believe awareness to be useful. In Israel the practice was found among Bedouins in the 1980s but seems to have disappeared. Small scale studies in Iran show that it exists in certain provinces. There is circumstantial evidence that FGM is practiced in Syria and Qatar.

As little as is known so far, it can be said for sure that FGM exists in the Middle East and is threatening the lives of millions of girls in the regions as much as it causes medical, psychological and sexual problems for adult women. In January 2012, WADI and Hivos organized a conference on FGM in the Middle East in the Lebanese capital Beirut. It was the first of its kind. Experts and activists from Iraq, Yemen, Indonesia and Egypt took part setting the foundation of a region-wide network to fight FGM in the Middle East.

As a start, we are collecting all evidence on FGM and reports on activism against FGM in Middle Eastern countries. We are contacting experts and activists to make this Anti-FGM network huge. We will support local groups to set up campaigns, lobbying for legislation and raising awareness.

If you are interested to help please contact us at:

Stop FGM Middle East

German Office phone ++49-30-60933390

Iraq Office phone ++964-7701-588173

Further Reading:

R. Belmaker: Female Genital Mutilation: Successful Social Change Exemplified by Israeli Bedouin and Ethiopian Jews, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Beersheva, Israel, Asian Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 4, pp. S1-S2, 2011

Chibber R, El-Saleh E, El Harmi J. (Kuwait University/ King Faisal University, Dammam, Kuwait): Female circumcision: obstetrical and psychological sequelae continues unabated in the 21st century (2011)

Wafa Marzouqi: Fatal Tradition: Female Circumcision in the U.A.E. (2011)

Susan Al Shahri: Female Genital Mutilation in Dhofar: The woman with the frankincense burner, June 7, 2011

Middle East Conference against Female Genital Mutilation by Irfan Al-Alawi, Stonegate Institute, February 2, 2012