"No one dare touch my daughter"

To the greatest reader*
When I go missing for a while, you would probably realize by now that I get up to something.
Bale! Bale! Bale!
“I was a victim, but no one dare touch my daughter!”
One of the female participants in the awareness sessions, with her daughter. Observe the facial expressions closely….

And that’s what I have been reading for the past few days now.
Paper after paper yelling out silent tears of “Bale” (Yes!) that is: Bale, I am circumcised.
Welcome to the miserable world of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)–something that I have been working with closely in the recent weeks.
Aside from a health awareness campaign that we are currently undertaking for women in the Choman district in Erbil I have also been working on a survey we did at the Salahaddin girl’s school. Basically on a piece of paper the girls wrote the occupation of their parents (not suprising almost every mother in that area was a housewife) and whether or not they had undergone the FGM process.  
As I was reading what they’d written my eyes filled with tears, a large number of the girls said they were circumcised. It’s either that I have a tenth senses or it was clear. I felt as though the words on the paper were silent screams, silent tears. For some reason I felt as though the handwriting of the girls
were telling a story. Could hand writing be emotional? (or am I just over emotional myself?!)

One of the papers received from the girls– the last word reads: Bale
Whether we like it or not, FGM exists in some parts of the region. It’s not smart to turn a blind eye on a phenomenon that is life shattering for many young girls. Which is why I am so proud of this project, especially because we managed to reach out to the village areas, reach out to women who don’t even know the etiquette of talking in a group. Women and girls who had never attended a talk in their lives. Women who have not been given the chance to be educated–to gain awareness and knowledge. It’s unfortunate that they are so negleted, because in other parts of the region it is not like that. But in the areas we are working in–borderline–there is neglect. Which is why it is worth the dedication that our team has put in- waking up 5 in the morning, and staying in the office till late evening hours to plan for the next day, to travel for over two hours for every session.

One of our members at the organization has an entire long list in their phone of Mulla A, Mulla X, Mulla Y etc… that is how it is. But it is all worth it. The six week campaign is almost ending, but I have this feeling that even the unmade  fetuses and unborn baby girls are smiling, and that, my dear reader makes it all worth more than you can ever imagine 

In one of our sessions where a doctor spoke to women in a village about FGM and after they watched a video we had a few of the women crying. I started to shiver. Despite all my sadness I managed to smile, I knew right then and there that we were changing lives.  Here is what we managed to understand from the sniffing, crying, women**:
Khadija (over 45 years old): [Sniffing] “My daughter keeps reminding me of the time I held her hand to the lady with the razor”
Gulabakh (in her 30s): [wiping a tear] “When we were circumcised, my friend, who was our neighbor was with me. She bled too much and then died!” (If you know Sazan well, at this point of listening to the story she is no sobbing—but I didn’t.)

I have a question

So many women have been victims of breast cancer because by the time they detect something is definitely wrong it is too late. So the session on self examination has also been beneficial. Most of the participants spend a lot of time sharing stories of women they knew in their villages who died because of it. They are interested to learn, and that is a great help for us to be able to send the message through.

It’s not all sweet. Due to the degree of sensitivity of the matter we are dealing with we have had our share of confrontations and negotiations. But the result that we get is amazing. We have been working in the village more than district itself. In one of them for example some of the women had never ever seen a gynecologist before–in fact 90% hadn’t. We were listening to stories from the participants in our sessions that few months back a women died while giving birth. She could have easily lived, but how could she? No doctor, no trained midwife (and for god sakes in good old Kurdish there wasn’t even the Mu’awen tubi—who basically works as a doctor!).

NOTE: I have to point out here that you shouldn’t feel sad for a single second. We promise these women will have a gynecologist visiting them once a month free of charge to answer all their medical questions and do examinations (and we are trying to see if we can link up with a pharmacy so we can take medication too for those who need it).  
So! Back to why I am writing this entry today (back to the argument, can’t go off topic). A large portion of the stack of surveys say ‘bale’. But the surprise and amazement we witness on the expressions of the females is beyond what words can ever describe.

A pile of the girls’ surveys on my desk. All giving the same information, whether or not they have gone through the FGM process. I learned that a large portion of my girls who I did the training were actually circumcized. By observing the surveys in the village surrouding Choman the numbers are…. well, very high, sadly

They don’t do it because they are cruel. No! These women choose for their girls to undertake the process because they think that it is the right decision. The number of times we have heard mothers say: “If only you told me earlier, I wouldn’t have done it on my daughters” are infinite.  

When there are high school girls sitting and listening to the words of a doctor, a religious man and watching a video… you can just feel that you are changing lives right then and there. All the female fetuses in the wombs of their mothers don’t need to fear going under the ‘razor’ for any reason.  
The women learn the science behind what is happening to the body and its consequences when that process is undertaken on a young girl. Just imagine, she is free but in chains at the same time. When they learn that no, it’s not religion and no it doesn’t mean that the girl’s food is haram to eat they won’t do it on their daughters.

Education and knowledge is power.
Most, if not all of them, share the same silent pain. But through this awareness and knowledge, I can say with complete confidence their daughters are going to be FGM free. With complete confidence I write that of the 1200 women who we have held sessions for, will not allow for any of their daughters, sisters, grandchildren, nieces or even the neighbor’s baby girl to undertake the procedure. Those days are over. That is accomplishment!  
If this entry put you in a ‘blue’ mood then wait for Saturday’s entry! I promise it’s going to be full of smiles. Tune in. By the way, I am still on with my project for my girls at the high schools.
*How do I know that you’re great? Because you have chosen to take few minutes of your precious time to read this blog!
**Names changed
All pictures are taken by and belong to START Social Development Organization 

5 thoughts on “"No one dare touch my daughter"

Add yours

  1. Soon Kurdistan will be completly free from all old-fashioned unlogical things – i not only hope, but i know that for sure. I am still thinking of finding the job in Kurdistan for few months, so if i manage to do that – i will join your work and i will help you. but if there is anything that i can do here in UK, just tell me. at the moment i am about to send the letter to KRG in London and in Poland about sendint specialists to help people who are working on revitalisation of Qalla – i know from an supervising engeneer, which whom i talked in march (he is from kirkuk) that they dont have experience in such kind of work with ancient buildings, so i would like to make KRG to pay some attention to that issue. but if anything else i can do – just give me a word.
    My best wishes.


  2. AHA! So that was the amazing project that you have been undertaking and which has kept you away from some time… what a worth while project to keep you away from your readers… simply inspiring and jaw dropping… I am so glad that you mentioned to the readers that it is not religion that has asked the women to do anything of the sort to themselves and their daughters… it is a cultural custom that was brought into the Middle East from Africa…

    I have a friend in Egypt who works with the UNICEF and who is in charge of such a project with the Egyptian women… both of you are inspiring women and I am so proud that we have such beautiful women in our region… we definitely need you… I hope that someday I can provide my people with the same educational awarness programs… you inspire me to keep trying to find something.
    You should read my latest entry as it talks about my iraqi Grandmother and how she spoke at the UN about women's rights and all in our region… would love to hear your views…

    Keep writing my beautiful Sazan… you are an amazing young lady and I am very proud of you!


  3. Kulka & Lana,
    If only I could give an award to the most loyal blog readers. . .
    thank you for your encouragement, support and lovely words in almost every blog entry. I appreciate all of it and it means a lot to me. Thanks a bunch!!


  4. @Kulka– I will let you know for sure if I need anything, but what you are doing is more than great. It's a wonderful feeling to know that there are people who like to be part of development!


  5. @Tabouleh: I will drop by to your blog now and let you know what I think. Can't wait to read it.

    I can't thank you enough for taking the time to reading and giving your support. I am still hoping to meet you sometime, someday in some part of the world!


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