Wednesday, 27 July 2016

FGM IN IRAQ IN CONVERSATION WITH DR MAHA AL-SAKBAN

Iraq is one of the Middle Eastern countries where FGM is spread mostly because of lack of education and information among women and girls. Researches have already found out that the FGM rate is lower among highly educated families.  
One of the main obastacle to overcome is, first of all,  to make sexuality outspoken, that's why also media don't talk about it. A change in this direction,  will make easier to address ,among other things,  FGM and sexually transmitted deseases.  
In 2010, Wadi published a study on FGM in the Kurdish region of Iraq, which found that 72% of women and girls were circumcised. Two years later, a similar study was conducted in the province of Kirkuk with findings of 38% FGM prevalence giving evidence to the assumption that FGM was not only practiced by the Kurdish population but also existed in central Iraq. According to the research, FGM is most common among Sunni Muslims, but is also practiced by Schi’ites and Kakeys, while Christians and Yezidi don’t seem to practice it in northern Iraq.
In 2013, the  PANA Center presented a draft law on the prevention of FGM in Iraq authored by Falah Moradkhan, Iraq project coordinator of Wadi.
Type I is the most common, especially in the Kurdish area, but in some regions also Type II and III are practiced.  The average age group is 7/12 but also older women. The operation is carried mostly at home by local midwives and doctors. 

I spoke with Dr Maha Al- Sakban who is a Pediatric Consultant at the Hospital of Diwaniya. She is also chair of the Human Rights Advisory  Board of Iraq, member of UN Women SCAG (Civil Society Advisory Group) and Member of NIF (Iraqi Facilitator's Network). Dr. Al-Sakban is committed in raising awareness on FGM in her country through educational workshops targeting youth. 


VALENTINA MMAKA – Dr. Al- Sakban, you are a pediatrician working in South Iraq. Can you tell me when you started doing researches on FGM and why? 
Dr. MAHA AL-SAKBAN -  I often heard about women coming to maternity room for delivery who were cut, especially Africans and Kurdish women, but at that time I did nothing about it. Although it is widely practiced in our regions, it is done in a secret way. Everyone knows about it but never speak of it.

VALENTINA MMAKA - People who support FGM in Iraq refer to religion to justify the practice?
Dr. MAHA AL-SAKBAN - Yes, even though recently they refer to medical and cosmetic reasons.

VALENTINA MMAKA - You mean that in Iraqi women ask for labiaplasty? I knew in the USA has become very popular influenced by the raise of porn movies' consumption, especially among teenagers. What about Iraq?
Dr. MAHA AL-SAKBAN - The genital area becomes wider and loose, so men do not enjoy sex with women, women go for vaginal plastic surgery to make their vagina narrow and tight. It is not asked just by wealthy women, I can say sometimes the procedure is asked by men sending their wives to undergo surgery.

VALENTINA MMAKA - Even if FGM comes from an ancient patriarchal system, in majority of the countries in the world is a tradition continued by women who are the custodian of this rite. Is the same in Iraq?
Dr. MAHA AL-SAKBAN  - Absolutely.

VALENTINA MMAKA - As a pediatrician  have you encountered many patients with signs of FGM?  Have you ever had the experience of mothers coming to you to say they don’t want their daughters to be cut but they have pressure from their families?
Dr. MAHA AL-SAKBAN - No, as a pediatrician I did not have many patients with signs of FGM. But I encountered many mothers who did not want their daughters to be cut.

VALENTINA MMAKA - In Iraq there is no law that bans FGM, but are there some pre existing rules that women can use to report against who cut them?
Dr. MAHA AL-SAKBAN  - Now there is a law draft to be proposed to ban FGM in Iraq, there is a law in Kurdistan that bans FGM. Yes, there are pre existing rules that women can use to report but are never used.

VALENTINA MMAKA - How is sexuality spoken in Iraq?  And what about FGM? Is there a dialogue about this issue?
Dr. MAHA AL-SAKBAN – In Iraq is a taboo  to talk about sexuality and consequently about FGM, that explains why there’s  no dialogue taking place about these issues.

VALENTINA MMAKA - Activists around the world envision education as a tool to empower girls and boys to end FGM. How would that work in Iraq? Could it be possible to train communities, students, social workers, parents, teachers?
Dr. MAHA AL-SAKBAN  - In present circumstances it is difficult but not impossible. As human rights activists we did educate youth about sexually transmitted diseases.

VALENTINA MMAKA - Where and who was the target?
Dr. MAHA AL-SAKBAN  - We did it in Alqadssiya Provence targeting students in intermediate schools  aged 15- 18 years.


VALENTINA MMAKA - Are there organizations in the country working to tackle FGM and collect data?
Dr. MAHA AL-SAKBAN – Yes, many in Kurdistan but very, very few in other parts of Iraq.

VALENTINA MMAKA - FGM is often related to early marriage in many African countries for examples girls drop out of school after they are cut and get married to older men. Is that the case also in Iraq?
Dr. MAHA AL-SAKBAN - Early marriage is widely practiced in Iraq, but I have no information about its relation with FGM in my country.

VALENTINA MMAKA - In Kurdish Iraq it seems that some communities have dropped FGM, according to you what is the right strategy to adopt in your country to raise awareness among people to abandon FGM?
Dr. MAHA AL-SAKBAN - We should start with health educational workshops to raise awareness targeting local communities and IDP's (Internally Desplaced Person) from the Northern parts of Iraq, areas invaded by ISIS,  encouraging them to be vocal about their experiences. Also targeting youth of both sexes on sexual education and laws criminalizing violence against women, early marriages.

VALENTINA MMAKA - You mentioned ISIS. There's a narrative circulating about ISIS forcing women to undergo FGM. What do you know about this?
Dr. MAHA AL-SAKBAN - Yes, it is true. They issued a regulation that every female and male has to get circumcision done (in 2014 many photographs of mass circumcision of males of defferent age groups were published via FB and other social media). Regarding women, it is true as documents were published and also survivors who  escaped, witnessed about it.  ISIS forced  even non Muslims  to do it.

VALENTINA MMAKA - Most women don't acknowledge the fact that FGM is irriversible. As a medical doctor can you confirm that the effects of FGM are irreversible?  
Dr. MAHA AL-SAKBAN – Definitely, are irreversible as much as cosmetic reconstruction remedies or procedures may be done, they can never replace the damage that was done. 

VALENTINA MMAKA - In 2012 WADI created a Hotline to  is it still working?
Dr. MAHA AL-SAKBAN - Yes, it is working actively, documenting and helping female victims of FGM and also ISIS victims.


VALENTINA MMAKA – When do you expect FGM to end in Iraq?
Dr. MAHA AL-SAKBAN - Not very soon, it will take a long time. We first have to admit its presence and then start to work on the issue.
  

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