Monday, 18 July 2016


Iran is one of the Middle Eastern countries where FGM is practiced in addition to Iraq, Yemen, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Oman, Saudi Arabia. 
Researcher and activist Rayehe Mozafarian is one of the important voices, in Iran,  who studies the spread of FGM in the country. She is also an active campaigner to end  Early Marriage .
Mozafarian holds a M.A. in Demography and Development (University of Shiraz, Teheran) and she is the author of Razor and Tradition (Utopia Publisher, Paris 2013), Tigh o Sonnat (Razor and Tradition) (Takht Jamshid Publisher, Iran 2015); The Ring. Early marriage in Iran (Iran 2016). In 2014 she has also published the study Violation of Girl's Rights. Child Marriage and FGM in Iran. 

Mozafarian began with a look at Iranian laws that could be used to fight FGM/C. Iran’s criminal code, for example, calls for punishment of premeditated mutilation that is equal to the crime. The penal code also invokes the Islamic tradition of diyya, or blood money, as a punishment for cutting female genitalia. Activists could also use Iran’s law protecting people with disabilities as well as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities - she said - as FGM survivors end up with a disability.

Rayehe also reviewed the views of religious leaders and others. When Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei was asked about FGM/C, he said that the practice is permissible but not obligatory. On his website, the leader also said that FGM/C doesn’t hurt if done right and that changing social norms could make it unacceptable. For Mozafarian, both claims suggest avenues for action: educating him that the operation is harmful and using his opinion to change social norms.

Other leaders downplay the problem. The head of the Iranian association of social workers, for example, said that prevalence is low, occurring mainly in villages with populations under 2,000. The director of public affairs at a medical school said that the practice takes place in secret and is thus difficult to quantify, but then said that since prevalence is low public, education isn’t needed. But even one girl is too many, said Mozafarian.

Rayehe Mozafarian then described what she called “circumcision” in Iran. Type 1 and 2 are common, and new reports indicate that Arabs in Iran’s southwest practice infibulation. It’s mostly Sunnis who practice FGM/C. Mozafarian’s study of women on the island of Qeshm found that FGM/C prevalence was 83 percent, with 60 percent of women saying they’d like to circumcise their daughters. “They don’t know why they want to continue,” she said. “My people want to continue this operation only because of tradition, tradition and religion.” 
In a study of Iran’s Kurdish area, young women wanted to be circumcised because their in-laws would request it. Other studies have revealed that marital satisfaction and sexual functioning were lower in Iranian couples when the wife has experienced FGM/C.

According to Mozafarian, FGM has been recorded in four provinces of Iran: in Hormozgan, Kurdistan, Lorestan, Kermanshah, West Azerbaijan. In Lorestan and Ilam it was a tradition but it doesn't happen any more. In Hormozgan, Kerman, Fars, Bousher, Sistan, Gorgan and Balouchestan there might be cases but there's lack of research to prove the evidence of it.  In the Gheshm Island on the Persian Gulf, 83% of women have undergone FGM because of gender stereotyping. 

VALENTINA MMAKA -  Rayehe, when did you start campaigning to end FGM in your country?  Did you ever had to overcome obstacles in your activism?
RAYEHE MOZAFARIAN - The first time I knew about Female Genital Mutilation was when my mom gave me a book, Desert Flower by Waris Dirie, which had been translated into Farsi.  The book led me to ask whether FGM occurs in Iran, where I was born and live.
I started searching in Google but found only two or three reports of FGM, in Kurdish areas of Iran and a city in the south. That’s when I decided to start my journey of exploration. At the time I was selecting a subject for my college thesis and I chose FGM in Iran. I worked for three years, writing and collecting my data. After finishing my study I published it as a book entitled Razor and Tradition. That book too was published in Farsi, but I also translated some parts of it in English. These translated sections were included in the report by an Austrian NGO, Südwind, in 2014, Violations of Girls’ Rights: Child Marriage and FGM in the I.R. Iran.
My friend and colleague Fatemeh Karimi has also written a book about these issues:  Tragedy of the Body, Violence against Women (2010).
I studied demography and development at Shiraz University, Iran. I come from a privileged family and who encouraged me to develop my abilities and talents, but it is hard for ordinary people to work in fields such as FGM, because you basically need a salary to meet ends.  Fortunately, my situation enables me to devote my life on this subject and related women's issues, so I am a volunteer, sustained by my family, especially my mother. 
Every day, when I wake up I know that I'm going to be busy. I also made a film about FGM in Iran, I attend conferences, give talks, write articles and use social media to tell people about FGM and why it must stop. I cannot leave or forget to work on this very subject.  Sometimes I ask myself, why do Icontinue?  And I immediately answer myself: “You work hard to convince people that FGM is still happening in some parts of Iran. You should carry on and stand with all girls will become victims, and try to save them”.

VALENTINA MMAKA –Last year, in July, the University of Tehran hosted the first conference about FGM that ever took place in Iran titled Razor of Tradition organized by the Sociology Faculty of Social Science. Along with Nazi Akbari and Ahmad Bokharayee, you were part of the panel’s speakers. Can you share with us what lead to this important conference in Iran and who contributed in making this possible in Iran?
RAHEYE MOZAFARIAN - When StopFGMIran started to inform people about the presence of FGM in the country, the Minister of Women`s Affairs and the director of the children`s rights office at the Ministry of Justice, called me and invited me to have a meeting and talk about this issue and I gave them all my information. After that, I wrote a proposal to start informing people and they accepted it and we are in progress to make a plan to continue working on this issue. In the beginning, it was not easy to convince people and the government to accept. After more than 6 years working hard, the campaign reached a successful stage. However, FGM is a tradition and custom so it is not easy to stop it suddenly. About the conference, it was the first time that one of the official organizations which  depends from the government of Iran, finally broke the silence about this issue in Iran and most of the official and important newspapers published a full report of speakers` speeches with full details.

 VALENTINA  MMAKA - What was the outcome of the conference and in which way do you think it will raise the attention of the Iranian Government in the next future? Who was in the audience?
RAYEHE MOZAFARIAN -  I organized a workshop in UNFPA at Shiraz University in 2009 when I was a student of demography and at that workshop for one day I talked about FGM and different aspects of this issue with my professors for the students of that university.
For the first national conference at Tehran University, I started my presentation with counting 11 seconds and drew the audience's (journalists, students of sociology and researchers and professor of universities) attention to the fact that every 11 seconds a girl is circumcised in the world. For operation which damages women's sexual organ there are three different terms: Female Genital Mutilation, Female Genital Cutting and Female Circumcision. All three terms are valid for extracting the mining laws.
Article 706 of the Islamic Penal Code states eliminate sexual power and fertility of men and women and the elimination of female or male sexual pleasure is under reported. Article 707 says that full compensation (blood money) awarded to destroy the ability of intercourse. Article 664 of the Penal Code: "cut and remove each of the both sides of female genital devote half of the woman blood money. There is as much blood money for cutting and removing the part of it. There is no difference between virgin and non-virgin, children and adults, healthy and disabled.
I continue my presentation with notice the Islamic points and Female Circumcision: Islam does not recommend circumcision of girls. To extract a ruling in Islam refer to 4 sources is necessary: Quran, Sunnah (Prophet Muhammad`s life), Ijmah (means the viewpoints of religious leaders) and analogy (in this case compare male and female circumcision). There is no evidence in all these sources that Islam recommended FGM.
In another part of her speech I asked the government to give all data and information and all statistical studies to UNICEF. There are 29 countries in the list of UNICEF but more than 10 countries are not in this list, most of them are Middle Eastern countries where FGM is happening. Because their governments does not accept to introduce itself to UNICEF,  addition to this list are postponing and on the other hand more girls are at risk. Iran's government should accept that this problem happens in Iran. I concluded my speech by inviting the audiences to join to “Stop FGM Iran” with remembering the slogan of this campaign: “even one victim is too many”.
One week after the conference, Stop FGM Iran, I organized second workshop in Bastak, one of the city of the south and invited women right's activists who cooperates with the health care organization of the government. Then we visited the great sunnit Ayatollah of that region and talked with him about FGM and gave him our report about the situation of FGM in that area. We decide to continue organizing these kind of workshop in each area.

VALENTINA MMAKA - The Conference's title was Razor and Tradition,  like your book. Can you tell me more about the book and the difficult process of getting it published? What changed from to 2014, when it was not allowed to get published, and now?
RAYEHE MOZAFARIAN - Internal and official Iranian media did not want to support me or talk about FGM, so I focused on the Iranian media abroad and started writing for them. I also sent my book to the Iranian government for permission publish it, but three times they refused.  So I published it in France instead. A year later the government changed and Rouhani became president, so I re submitted my book. Finally, in February 2015, I obtained permission to publish in Iran, and some of the official Iranian newspapers started to write about it.  Then I sent all my information and a lot of copies of my book to the related officials and governmental organizations, to ensure they are aware that FGM is still happening.  We do not know exactly the extent of FGM in Iran, or whether it is becoming less common, because there was no exact data before we started researching. Now we are taking the first steps to eradication, as people start hearing about FGM. Many people ignore that it is done but they don't want to talk about it and destroy their culture.

VALENTINA MMAKA - Iran does not have a law which bans FGM, on the contrary the Penal Code states at article 664 that the cutting or severing of a woman’s genital organs must be paid for by half the compensation for a woman. Based on this law a woman can sue the person who mutilated her. Also article 706 off the Islamic Penal Code states the elimination of sexual ability and fertility of men and women and the elimination of female or male sexual pleasure is under reported. Article 707 says that full compensation is awarded if the ability of intercourse is destroyed. How much are these articles used in reality?
RAYEHE MOZAFARIAN - For the first time I wrote about these articles and introduced them to my government and my people… so it means we can get help from these articles.
But until now there is no case that passed through the legal system in terms of women reporting against the perpetrators, that's why StopFGMIran is trying to use all these article to convince government to pass a special and separate law for eliminating FGM in Iran.

VALENTINA MMAKA - Kurdistan has outlawed FGM in 2011 with a certain success, do you envision the Iranian Government outlawing FGM one day? What impact could have a law which says that FGM is a crime in Iranian society?
RAYEHE MOZAFARIAN - Now with all these laws, FGM is not legal and it is crime…for the first time I collected all Fatwa (sentences) from the greatest Ayatollahs and one of the important Fatwa was Ayatollah Khamenei`s one in which he mentioned that FGM is not obligatory. But to eliminate FGM we need to change the sunnits religious leaders` view points. Stop FGM Iran tries to negotiate with these religious leaders and give them enough information to break this silence about the issue. From Stop FGM Iran, we offered another proposal to the Minister of Women`s Affairs and we collected all these laws, articles and Fatwas and as the role of the constitution of Iran, minister of women`s affairs should offer this proposal to the parliament to study it and then pass a special law.

VALENTINA MMAKA - Even though FGM comes from a patriarchal idea, often women are those who carry the tradition. Is that so because of fear, ignorance or submission?
RAYEHE MOZAFARIAN - Because they try to keep their tradition. Until this time no one talks and inform women about the negative effects of FGM, so  how they would understand that is a violation of their human rights when even their mothers were cut? When I had a speech at CSW59, I gave the audiences  a small red paper and a razor then I asked them to cut their red paper and if they had any question they could ask me. No one asked me and all of them cut their papers without asking any question. Why? Because they trusted me. They had the opportunity to question me but they did not do that. Then I told  them that because they never ask themselves “why”,  and just trusted me, they did what I asked them. Women continue this tradition because they don't know the exact reason and no one turns on the light on their mind about why they shouldn't cut their girls. And they don't try to ask the question or find the answer. So Stop FGM Iran is working to turn on the new light!  

VALENTINA MMAKA -   During the research for your book and in your daily activism how did/do you confront with men?  What is their position related to FGM and how is important their presence in the process of ending FGM?
RAYEHE MOZAFARIAN - It depends on the culture. They are playing an important role in all these societies because the religious leaders are men and they can change the role and law of society if they want. But on the other hand, because men of these areas trust women, most of them do not try to discover the secret of this issue. They believe that most of the girls are circumcised under the care of  women who are the real keepers of this tradition, so apparently to men there's no reason why they should have a word on the issue when in their view, women do their job carefully.

VALENTINA MMAKA -   How is StopFGMinIran working nowadays to raise awareness on FGM? What is the next goal to achieve?
RAYEHE MOZAFARIAN - So we really try and work hard. It was not very easy way and as all other activities there is some other unexpected events without any doubt. We use every tribune to inform people and  we hope that the Parliament will soon pass a special law and UNICEF will accept the existence of this issue in Iran and support us.

To know more about Rayehe Mozafarian's work
Stop Early Marriage in Iran


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