The Politics of Culture – FGM in iran
This comprehensive research shows that FGM is prevalent in the rural areas of parts of three western and one southern provinces of Iran: West Azerbaijan (Kurdish populated south), Kurdistan, Kermanshah and Hormozgan provinces, and close-by islands. The provinces of Kurdistan are populated by a Sunni Shafi’i majority and certain Shi’a communities. The remaining provinces have mixed Sunni, Shi’s and other ethnic and religious populations, such as large minorities of Shi’a Turkish Aziri and small minorities of Turkish Ahl-e-Haq (in West Azerbaijan, between the towns of Mahabad and Miandoab), plus a small community of Armenian Christians in Urumiye and Shi’a Kurdish Kalhor and as well as Ahl-e-Haq Kurds in parts of Kermanshah which do not practice FGM. However, some Shi’a women who live near Sunni populated areas in Hormozgan province do currently practice FGM; and historically many groups of Shi’a Kurdish women in parts of Kermanshah and Ilam province have practiced FGM.
It is important to stress that FGM is mainly associated with Sunni Kurds of Shafi’i sect who speak the Sorani dialect, and not those in the Kurdish Kermanji speaking areas of Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syrian Kurdistan, even though they are also Shafi’i Muslims.
Likewise, the Ahl-e-Haq Kurds, Alevi, Yezidis or Kurdish minority of Armenia as well as the forcibly migrated Kurds of the east and north of Iran practice FGM.
FGM is not found amongst the Kurdish Kermanji speaking inhabited areas, nor in the large areas within mainland Iranian Kurdistan where there has been no evidence of FGM for the last three generations. As mentioned previously, it is important to highlight that the practice of FGM in Iranian Kurdistan is patchy and demonstrates sharp variations from one region to another, even from one village to another.
With respect to the southern part of Iran, it is unclear how the practice of female genital mutilation came to this region. One argument is that the custom was brought into the country through a naval exchange between India and Somalia (Mohajer, 2010), and to this date some small communities of Afro Iranian live in Qeshm.
In addition to the southern part of the country, FGM is also practiced in some villages and rural parts of Western Iran as well as in Kurdistan and Kermanshah province and in West Azerbaijan province. In some locations girls are usually ‘circumcised’ between the ages of three and six with sharp razor or a knife and, afterwards, some ash or cold water is applied to their mutilated genitals (though this is changing; increasingly, more hygienic materials such as Betadine and bandage pads are used). Some locals in these parts including Hormozgan province believe that FGM is a tradition from Prophet Muhammad and that circumcised women who have undergone it are purified. According to this group of believers, FGM helps keep girls chaste by decreasing their sexual desire and by preserving their virginity before marriage, and produces faithful wives.
Another local custom practiced in limited areas is cheheltigh (forty razors, which are believed to take away girls’ sexual urges and make them smell more pleasant, and therefore more sexually appealing, to men. In the south and west of Iran, some Bibis make a small razor cut in the thigh of the girl for those parents who cannot bear to see their child suffering, this practice is called Tighe Muhammedi (Mohajer, 2010).
In various villages in the Kermanshah and Kurdistan provinces, some women believe that girls should be circumcised or at least cut, with a small amount of bleeding, dirty blood exits the child’s for both religious and health reasons (the local term for this practice is Pajela).
Some citizens of Bandar Kang believe that women are evil creatures who can only be saved from the reach of the devil by being circumcised (Jalali, 2007). Bandar Kang is located five kilometres from Bandar Lengeh in the south of Iran. In Bandar Kang girls are circumcised with a shaving razor when they are 40 days old or older. According to the study by Parisa Rezazadeh Jalali, 70% of the girls in this port city have been circumcised.
Most groups which practice FGM in Iran use religion to justify the practice. They usually believe that FGM was practiced during the early years of Islamic Kingdom, where the Prophet’s and Imams’ wives and daughters were circumcised. Others mainly argue it is a religious duty and local tradition and because their mothers and grandmothers did it they will continue the tradition; most are unaware of FGM’s medical consequences and health hazards (Jalali, 2007).