Author Kameel Ahmady entered the Deneke Common Room at Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford, at 2 p.m. on 10 October to mark the UN’s international day, 11 October, dedicated to a better future for girls. His mission was to inform us about model research that has both uncovered the regrettable existence of female genital mutilation in Iran — the manner of performing it there called ‘sunnet’ — and a reduction in incidence coinciding with inquiry undertaken in the four provinces where the practice prevails: Kurdistan, Kermanshah, Hormozgan and Western Azerbaijan. Hence we celebrate the news, that long-term effort — this having been a ten-year project — can bring quantifiable results.
This is especially so when not only women but also men lead. I am honored to introduce a male scholar doing this work, investigating prevalence while explaining ill effects and introducing motives to cease even the kind of cut deemed least invasive. Sunnet is defined as WHO classification Type 1 which, though generally removing some flesh, can be as little as a prick or scratch which, when tissue heals, becomes invisible not only to laypeople but also to the physician’s trained eye. This is not to weaken the need to abolish a rite whose raison d’etre continues to damage girls. Now that Bohra Muslim and Indonesian victims are speaking out, first-person testimony brings an unequivocal message: psychological scars remain.
And behind proactive symbolic wounding is fear of female sexuality whose imagined malevolence — or voracious, irresistible force — is nearly everywhere inscribed among reasons for clitoral blood-letting in the first place. Clearly, men choosing to advocate against FGM deserve applause, for they risk what other men think of as ‘honour’ but do so convinced that their inconvenience melts beside humiliation imposed on girls when their legs are spread and ‘illicit’ parts cut.
Here are excerpts from the Prologue.
“Although analysts emphasize the challenge of eradicating a custom that has survived for millennia, ending Female Genital Mutilation is considered imperative by feminists, human rights campaigners and social activists as well as responsible governments and international organisations (such as UNICEF). I join them.
“Thus, the project culminating in this book started 10 years ago. Since then considerable energy has nourished the effort to learn more about the practice in Iran and to launch pilot interventions to stop it. Admittedly, where the complicated custom lurks beneath the surface, FGM is difficult to comprehend and even harder to eliminate.
“My research has its roots in 2005 when I returned after many years’ absence from Europe to my birthplace, Iranian Kurdistan. Previously, working in Africa with a number of humanitarian relief NGOs had given me the opportunity to observe UN projects to end genital ablation of girls in countries like Egypt, Somalia, Kenya and Sudan. Remembering vaguely from my childhood that cutting the clitoris (locally called sunnet) existed in some parts of Iranian Kurdistan, I decided to research first among my own family and close relations.
“The evidence shocked me. Long existing in areas of Mukriyan where I am from, sunnet had been suffered by my grandmothers, mother and sister. They had all undergone FGM.
“In fact, within Iran, the number of people from non-FGM-practising provinces with any awareness at all of the tradition’s existence is exceedingly low. As a male with an ‘unusual’ background, in the sense that I had lived abroad, in Africa and Europe, my detailed questions about this sensitive topic—concerning cutting the private part of a woman’s body— created resistance and bewilderment. Moreover, the research was belittled by some locals, especially men. Not a few with whom I spoke, including a number of my relatives, felt that the project would dishonour me. No educated man would want to deal with a topic incompatible with masculine ‘pride’, they felt. Here I would like once again to thank my late father. Despite the pressure of ‘neighborly’ viewpoints shared at times by the federal government, he supported me throughout.
“As the scope of the investigation gradually grew, I began looking at other regions in Iran. On this journey, I enjoyed much assistance in fieldwork as well as in analysis and assembly of data. My research results appear here in book form for the first time. While focused on areas most affected by FGM in the western part of the country, namely West Azerbaijan, Kurdistan and Kermanshah provinces, and some areas of southern Iran, namely Hormozgan province and its islands, I provide a comprehensive overview of the prevalence of FGM in the nation as a whole.
“At the same time that my study anticipated book production, I also filmed research activities such as interviews and talks, providing material for the internet [available at <http:/kameelahmady.com/fgm-in-iran>]. The first and so far only documentary about FGM in Iran, In the Name of Tradition captures the views of residents in various Kurdish villages and neighborhoods of the city of Mahabad as well as others from the nearby Kurdistan province and Hawraman, a region located where Kurdistan and Kermanshah provinces meet (http://kameelahmady.com/fgm-in-iran). A later edition of this anthropological documentary contains footage and interviews from regions and villages of Kermanshah and Hormozgan province, including islands such as Qeshm, Hormuz and Kish.  In addition to featuring local women and bibis, i.e. women cutters, the documentary collects opinions from local men, medical staff and clerics and provides an eloquent illustrative record of FGM in some of the less-visited and infrequently reported rural areas of Iran.
“In my view, sunnet and the hidden beliefs behind it violate human rights in general and women and children’s rights in particular. Hence it is incumbent upon everyone to eradicate the custom. The great news is that FGM rates are declining, albeit slowly, across the globe, including in the secret pockets in Iran. However, a lot of work remains to be done there.”
 You will find that some authors refer to ablation of female genitalia by a euphemism, calling it Female Genital Cutting or FGM/C. Throughout this study unless otherwise stated, FGM will refer to both female genital mutilation and female genital ‘cutting’.
 The Greater Mukriyan region encompasses several cities such as Bukan, Piranshahr, Nagadeh, Mahabad, Sardasht and Oshnaviyeh. It is part of Iran’s West Azerbaijan province.
With gratitude to Lady Margaret Hall for an attractive venue, and to the International Gender Studies Centre with Director Dr Maria Jaschok for active encouragement of this book launch event.
You can take advantage of the pre-order discount for
Kameel Ahmady. In the Name of Tradition. Female Genital Mutilation in Iran. “AfterWords” by Tobe Levin and Hilary Burrage. Frankfurt am Main: UnCUT/VOICES Press, 2016. ISBN 978-3-9813863-7-0
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