December 29, 2008

Female circumcision prevalent in Kurdistan

Female circumcision is widespread in Iraq's Kurdistan region, despite it having what is considered a more progressive society, women's advocacy groups say.

A study this year indicates more than 60 percent of women in Kurdish areas of northern Iraq have been circumcised, and in at least one territory 95 percent of women have undergone the ritual, The Washington Post reported Monday.

The practice -- involving the removal of external female genitalia -- and the Kurdish Parliament's refusal to ban it, point up the plight of women in the region, say advocacy groups, which call it female genital mutilation.

When the Kurdish people were fighting for our independence, women participated as full members in the underground resistance, said Pakshan Zangana, leader of the women's committee in the Kurdish Parliament. But now that we have won our freedom, the position of women has been pushed backward and crimes against us are minimized.

Zangana has been lobbying for a law in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan that would impose jail terms on those who perform or facilitate female circumcision. But the legislation has stalled for nearly a year, in part because of what women's advocates believe is reluctance by senior Kurdish leaders to shine a spotlight on the custom.

Supporters told the Post the practice has been a ritual in their culture for generations and is based on sayings attributed to Muhammad. Supporters also said the practice controls a woman's sexual desires and it makes her spiritually clean so that others may eat meals she prepares.