June 2011 marked a hallmark in Iraq’s Kurdistan. In a conservative society, even by Middle Eastern standards, the passage of legislation to criminalize female genital mutilation is certainly a great deal. Besides criminalizing and penalizing FGM, the statute also penalizes physical, sexual and psychological assault committed within the family and creates conditions for the protection of victims and mandates the establishment of specialised courts.
Why was this welcome? Because Kurdistan was a thriving hotbed of criminal conduct against women. A German NGO published a report in 2010, based on interviews with 1,700 women in the region. The report revealed that 72.7% of women in the region’s two biggest provinces of Arbil and Sulaimaniyah were victims of female genital mutilation, with the rate rising to almost 100 per cent in some areas. The practice had a lot to do with illiteracy. In this background, having legislation outlaw, criminalize and penalize the practice is commendable. The first step is to recognize an issue and actually speak about it, to admit the truth. By not recognizing the occurrence of a crime, a society is both complicit and abetting of the commission of the crime. The next step is to manifest action, for all truth is actionable.
And that is where the flaws have crept in. A law is nothing without implementation. The aim of a legal instrument is not to remain a paper tiger, but rather, an instrument that would engineer change in society. But to confine a piece of legislation to verbal discourse, stultified in stagnation in practice, would be a derisive mockery of the institution of justice. The hurdles are plentiful – from the need for new courts to creation of awareness at the grass-root level. To rise above the challenges would be worth every effort, for the greater cause that is being pursued is the fact that should be considered.
by Kirthi Gita Jayakumar