In the Islamic Republic of Iran female genital mutilation is acknowledged as a problem. There have been small scale scientific surveys and the topic was addressed on conferences. At least one high-ranking cleric of predominant Shia-Islam has condemned the practice. Several activists are tackling the issue, yet not without resistance from state institutions. It seems that there is some awareness raising, but generally FGM remains a taboo.
Small-scale surveys indicate a similar cluster to other areas in the Mideast: FGM seems to occur in irregular patterns, with high prevalence in regional and local hotspots. Areas of interest are the Kurdish areas in the north, but also other Iranian provinces like Khuzestan and Lorestan.
Zinat Daryayi a women’s rights activist in the province of Khuzestan wrote a book about female circumcision, in which she mentions the problems encountered by women in connection with circumcision and the extent to which ancient beliefs, traditions, and rituals have played a role in its prevalence, reports the webjournal Gozaar.
Evidence of FGM among the Kurdish population of Iran was also found by WADI when conducting sample studies in 2008 in Iraqi refugee camps where mostly Iranian regugess of Kurdish origin were living. The average prevalence was 50 percent.
In 2011, the topic was discussed on a national congress on health education in Tabriz. A medical survey was presented which found an FGM prevalence of 55% in a group of 348 interviewed women in Kermnasah province.
While these regions are quite near to neighbouring Iraq, FGM is also practiced in some places in the very South, among them the city of Hormozgan and the ports of Bandar Kang and Jask.
The official position on FGM seems to be ambivalent. In response to various queries by Gozaar about the stance of Islam in regard to female circumcision, Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Hossein Fazlollah answered in 2010, “Our studies of the existing texts on this subject show that female circumcision is not of Islam’s doing and that it does not have an Islamic origin. Female circumcision was a ritual from the era of ignorance (the pre-Islamic era), when it was considered a way for a woman to make herself more attractive to her husband. What has been handed down to us by the Imams proves that the tradition of female circumcision was negated.”
Yet, Azarmehr Association of the Women of Kurdistan in Iran, an association active in voicing the general demands of women and working against FGM, have encountered state resistance. According to the activist Parvin Zabihi, who has written a book on the subject, a number of Kurdish university students started an association against FGM after having written their thesis on FGM. However, no permit was issued for this association. Another anti-FGM activist recounted according to Gozaar: “Officials in the Intelligence Ministry in Kurdistan have summoned us repeatedly and told us bluntly that we do not have the right to be active in this matter and that they have pronounced the establishment of our association to be an act against national security.”
During the last year, a vivid debate developed in the Kurdish region after several TV specials on FGM had been aired by Iraqi-Kurdish television stations which are popular among Iranian Kurds.
Fariba Davoudi Mohajer: Female Circumcision: Elegy for a Dream, Goozar, August 2010
Golnaz Esfandiari: Female Genital Mutilation Said To Be Widespread In Iraq’s, Iran’s Kurdistan, Radio Free Europe, August 14, 2013