Female genital mutilation falls sharply in northern Iraq
The widely condemned practice of ceremonial female genital mutilation (FGM) has seen a dramatic drop in northern Iraq, campaigners said on Monday, calling on clerics to use their status and issue religious rulings to end the ancient ritual.
A survey conducted by US-based Heartland Alliance found that 45 percent of around 6,000 mothers in Iraq's Kurdish region had undergone FGM, compared to under 11 percent of their daughters.
"We're very encouraged," Hannah Wettig, coordinator of the Stop FGM Middle East campaign, said according to Reuters.
"We're quite certain that we can eradicate FGM in one generation if efforts continue," she told Thomson Reuters Foundation on International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM.
Stop FGM Middle East - founded by German charity WADI - is focused mostly in Muslim Kurdish regions of northern Iraq.
The report, supported by the Kurdistan Regional Government and UNICEF, found that most women surveyed cited religion as a reason for continued the ritual – although FGM is not mentioned in the Quran and the practice predates Islam.
Campaigners urged religious leaders to call an end to the ritual.
"They should be encouraged to include messages about ending (FGM) in their local communities in Friday prayers and sermons," the authors of the report said.
"Issuing a fatwa condemning the practice ... is another powerful step religious leaders and religious-based political parties could take."
FGM, which can cause physical, mental and sexual problems, is mostly associated with Africa, but is also a ritual in some parts of Asia and the Middle East.
The practice can include cutting away some or all of the clitoris, as well as the labia minora or majora, often in unhygienic circumstances.
Globally, at least 200 million girls and women alive today have suffered some form of female genital mutilation across 30 countries, according to the UN.
At least half of those women live in Egypt, Ethiopia and Indonesia, the UN said.
"It irreparably damages girls' bodies, inflicting excruciating pain," UNICEF director Anthony Lake and UN Population Fund director Babatunde Osotimehin said in a joint statement on Monday, marking International Day of Zero Tolerance for female genital mutilation.
"It causes extreme emotional trauma that can last a lifetime," and increases the risk of deadly complications during pregnancy and childbirth, they noted.
The United Nations has declared the practice a human rights violation.