By Kameel Ahmady
I have a message from Iran for you, written in a simple language, away from the many big words and grand expressions. I know that hearing the name Iran brings to mind images and memories of a different place – where different laws and government exist and people live in a different style. But different how?
Well, you may agree with me that there are some restrictions that you feel as soon as you become a part of the everyday life within the Iranian society. You become especially unlucky when an Iranian law applies to you and even more unlucky if you are woman. There is beauty to everyday life in Iran, great food, warm hospitality, and the rich culture and history that multicultural Iran holds. But if you are a professional, activist, writer etc. and you are there to make a difference and have something to say which doesn’t go according to the government’s line or the ruling clergymen – then you would feel those restrictions even more.
There are many hidden and uncovered sad and happy social stories throughout Iran, but the issue of FGM (female genital mutilation) is not just another one of them. It’s not just a story like the ones we hear about family life communities. FGM is the destruction of the big and important life of a female child that will make the future of new Iran. Being born female already means being counted as half a person according to Sharia law, and being discriminated against in the most basic civil and human rights. Letting FGM to rip through a child’s life and take the very human and natural sexual pleasure that she may experience (and that’s when she is lucky to marry someone she chooses) through her discriminatory life – is not something we should agree with.
Combating FGM in Iran has developed from an idea to a successful project carried out be a motivated, young, small but very committed team that I have the pleasure to be part of since 2007. We have been working tirelessly, with no funding, building up a fieldwork capacity that covers through thousands of kilometers of village roads, from the top to the bottom of Iran. We have been talking and interviewing thousands of women from different age groups and ethnic backgrounds such as Lur, Baktayari, Kurd, Turk, Beluch and Arabs to get data about FGM, and at the same time convince the public and especially the mothers not to mutilate their daughters. We have been visiting and talking to clergymen, also important part of this work. It has not always been easy to carry on with this work day in and day out, travelling to remote villages, with difficult access and security condition, searching for a place to sleep after long tiring days.
Imagine you are in Iran: you came to look for something that you already found. Your case is ready to go out and you want to do something about it, what would you do? Tell the world? Sit around the table with the authorities, hold dialogue and lobby for your cause (which you did already and they just showed you the door)? With no funding, no little support from the public and surely not from the government, what will you do?
One of the things that upset us is to hear comments and opinions of some individuals – who are considered ‘experts’ and hold positions within the government, universities, health services etc; who have the title of professor, Dr/PhD, Head of this or that institution and organization – coming out and declare that there is no such a thing as FGM Iran, that Iran is FGM free. This problem, they say, is not our, it’s done elsewhere – in Africa – and ,thank God, although our country is 99% Muslim, such an idea is new to us. What is this? Is it denial of facts? Or is it simply the beliefs of professor, based on their armchair research that have no clue about what is going on in their country, that they are supposed to represent?
Well, I don’t have an answer for all of these questions, but there are few things that I do know and some of them are what I saw and witnessed firsthand on the ground. With this column, I want to invite those who want to make the change and be part of a changing a system, change the living standards of the people that we think we care about. We are small in numbers but please take our very much determined hands and come on board, so that we can make a difference together, simply because together we are stronger.
Anti FGM IRAN project