Abstract Anthropologist reveals FGM practised in western, southern Iran

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – When anthropologist Kameel Ahmady began investigating female genital mutilation in his native Iran he had no idea his own mother and sister had been cut – a reflection of just how shrouded in secrecy the practice is.

Ahmady, who was born in Iranian Kurdistan but moved to Britain in his 20s, took global campaigners by surprise this month when he published a study suggesting tens of thousands of Iranian women have undergone FGM.

Until now Iran has not been widely recognized as a country affected by FGM – an ancient ritual which is internationally condemned as a serious rights violation.

The practice, which causes physical and psychological damage, is commonly linked to 27 African countries along with Yemen and Iraqi Kurdistan.

But Ahmady’s research, based on 4,000 interviews, shows FGM is also performed in “secret pockets” of four Iranian provinces; West Azerbaijan, Kurdistan and Kermanshah in the west and Hormozgan in the south.

The ritual usually involves cutting the clitoris with a knife or razorblade. Some girls are cut as babies, others during childhood.

Parents often believe FGM is a religious requirement and some think it will help preserve their daughters’ virginity and therefore the family’s honor.

“It needs to be done otherwise a girl would have so much sexual desire it would be scandalous,” one elderly cutter says in a documentary filmed during research.

Ahmady said his study initially provoked denials and insults but the backlash stopped when the BBC’s Persian service broadcast the film, triggering debate on Iranian social media.

Last week he was invited to speak at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva at a session on tackling FGM, which is thought to affect 140 million girls and women worldwide.

Read more: Abstract Anthropologist reveals FGM practised in western, southern Iran

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