The Iranian & Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO) has long campaigned for recognition from the international community and national governments that female genital mutilation (FGM) is practiced in many communities across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), beyond Egypt and Kurdistan-Iraq. This recognition is a crucial step in ensuring that the success of the global movement to end FGM is universal.

Lack of research has allowed ignorance and denial about FGM in many MENA areas, where for many it remains a taboo, to go unchecked. It has meant that the movement to end FGM globally has overlooked many MENA girls and women who have experienced or are at risk of FGM and are not receiving the protection and support that they need.

IKWRO welcomes this important new research and the accompanying film by Kameel Ahmady, which together identify a number of communities in Iran that are practising FGM. It is now impossible for it to be ignored or denied that FGM is practiced in Iran.

The findings show that certain communities in West and South Iran practice FGM and that it is not isolated to a single community, language or religious sect. The research highlights considerable variation, even from village to village, as to the level of prevalence, the average age that girls and women are cut (some within the first year of birth, others before marriage) and the rhetoric given around the motivation for it. This demonstrates the importance of detailed local research and not making generalised assumptions, to ensure that future work to end FGM can be most effective.

A factor that is common across the communities identified in the research as practicing FGM, is the high prevalence of other forms of “honour” based violence, including child marriage, forced marriage and “honour” killings. Understanding the intersectionality of these issues and tackling them as such is essential to ensuring that women and girls’ safety and equality is achieved.

Significantly, the research uncovered evidence of FGM within diaspora communities in the United Arab Emirates and Dubai, not only among Iranians but also amongst people originating from Oman, Yemen and Bahrain. These findings give an indication of the breadth of FGM practicing communities across the MENA region and demonstrate that just as those that practice FGM move, so too can the abuse.

The research indicates some grounds for optimism, suggesting that in some areas FGM is decreasing. Positively the film also demonstrates the successful influence on some FGM practitioners of foreign Kurdish TV, which had informed them that FGM is harmful.

However, whilst many thousands of women and girls remain in imminent danger of FGM, within Iran and in other parts of the MENA region, or are suffering the consequences without appropriate support, much more needs to be done.

This research provides a crucial baseline for further action in Iran and must act as a catalyst for research and targeted action across the MENA region to end FGM and support victims and survivors. We need to achieve government bans on FGM across the MENA region and to build on what is working, including educating people about the damage FGM does to health and use of the media to share this information. Ignorance and denial must not be allowed to persist, as unless every practicing community globally is identified and followed up with effective action, the goal to universally end FGM cannot succeed.

IKWRO congratulate the UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID), which co-hosted the landmark Girl’s Summit, on its leadership in tackling FGM. We call on DFID to support prevalence research and action across the MENA region to ensure that FGM is truly ended globally.

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