The Girls of Kurdistan: Liberated and Mutilated

As members of the Bush administration are running their final lap on a variety of shows to defend their legacy, especially concerning Iraq, it is necessary to remember that things are definitely worse for women and girls there (although we already know they don’t count, really):

"Sheelan Anwar Omer, a shy 7-year-old Kurdish girl, bounded into her neighbor’s house with an ear-to-ear smile, looking for the party her mother had promised.

There was no celebration. Instead, a local woman quickly locked a rusty red door behind Sheelan, who looked bewildered when her mother ordered the girl to remove her underpants. Sheelan began to whimper, then tremble, while the women pushed apart her legs and a midwife raised a stainless-steel razor blade in the air. "I do this in the name of Allah!" she intoned.

As the midwife sliced off part of Sheelan’s genitals, the girl let out a high-pitched wail heard throughout the neighborhood. As she carried the sobbing child back home, Sheelan’s mother smiled with pride.

"This is the practice of the Kurdish people for as long as anyone can remember," said the mother, Aisha Hameed, 30, a housewife in this ethnically mixed town about 100 miles north of Baghdad. "We don’t know why we do it, but we will never stop because Islam and our elders require it."

Kurdistan is the only known part of Iraq –and one of the few places in the world–where female circumcision is widespread. More than 60 percent of women in Kurdish areas of northern Iraq have been circumcised, according to a study conducted this year. In at least one Kurdish territory, 95 percent of women have undergone the practice, which human rights groups call female genital mutilation.

The practice, and the Kurdish parliament’s refusal to outlaw it, highlight the plight of women in a region with a reputation for having a more progressive society than the rest of Iraq. Advocates for women point to the increasing frequency of honor killings against women and female self-immolations in Kurdistan this year as further evidence that women in the area still face significant obstacles, despite efforts to raise public awareness of circumcision and violence against women."

This is what goes on in the "more progressive" region of Iraq, I can’t imagine what goes on in the rest of the country. But good news, Kurdistan has a Minister for Human Rights, what does he think of this issue?

The reasons given for circumcising girls are the usual ones: control girls sexuality and keep them "clean" so that men can eat the meals she’ll cook. And the stories are also familiar:

"Ghamjeen Shaker, a 13-year-old from the Kurdish capital of Irbil, said she is still traumatized from the day she was circumcised. She sits with her legs clenched together and her hands clasped tightly on her lap, as if protecting herself from another operation. Indeed, Shaker says she sometimes dreams that the midwife who circumcised her is coming back to perform the procedure again.

She was 5 when her mother sent her out to buy parsley and then locked her in the front yard of their home with six other girls. "I knew something bad was going to happen, but I didn’t know exactly where they were going to cut," she recalled. "My family just kept saying, don’t worry, this is a social custom we have been doing forever."

"They pinned me to the ground, and I just cried and cried," said Shaker, who spoke barely above a whisper. "I was just so astonished. But now I realize that they want to prevent women from living their lives normally.""

Or this,

"When Sheelan entered the room, her mother, Nawchas and a local woman placed the girl on a tiny wooden stool the size of a brick. The midwife applied yellow antiseptic to her pelvic area and injected her with lignocaine, an anesthetic. Little children peeked through the window to see what the noise was about.

"It’s all right, it’s all right," Sheelan’s mother whispered, as the girl screamed so loudly her face turned red. She tried to bunch up her skirt over her pelvis and shield the area with her hand, but the women jerked her arms back.

Then Nawchas uttered the prayer, made a swift cut, and immediately moved the girl over a pile of ashes to control the bleeding.

The entire ritual took less then 10 minutes.

Back home, Sheelan lay on the floor, unable to move or talk much. She clutched a bag filled with orange soda and candy and barely said anything except that she was in pain.

But she became more animated when asked whether it was worth it to have the operation so her friends and neighbors would be comfortable eating food she prepared. "I would do anything not to have this pain, even if meant they would not eat from my hands," she rasped slowly.

"I just wish that I could be the way I was before the procedure," she said."

Again, I do not want to read or hear another word on respect for other cultures. This is sexist torture and butchery in the name of religion and patriarchy.

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