An efficient law without trials: Iraqi Kurdistan

Members questioned the relevance of considering trials and convictions as evidence of the success of a law and as a useful tool to improve the effectiveness of the law.

Hannah Wettig, working for Wadi in northern Iraq, shared her observations of the discussions on Female Genital Mutilation laws and questioned the emphasis on prosecution. She began with the example of a German law whose effectiveness cannot be questioned by the mere lack of legal action:

“It is not because there is no legal action that the law does not work. There are laws that work without ever being prosecuted. For example, the law against marital rape in Germany. What the laws do and do not do depends on society’s understanding of the laws: do they generally believe in the laws / the legislative and executive bodies responsible for the law? Do they know the law? Was there a discussion about the law that made people understand why it was necessary?

Prosecution is a way of making people understand that the law exists and is taken seriously. But this can be achieved through many other measures. So the lack of prosecution doesn’t mean much.

She then presented the context in Iraqi Kurdistan, where the adoption of the law condemning FGM was accompanied by additional measures to raise awareness of the problem and to communicate the law so that it would be understood and accepted. Both the population and the Iraqi government eventually took full ownership of the law, which was well integrated into society and promoted as an example of success by the government.

“In Iraq, in the Kurdish Autonomous Region, a law was passed in 2011. So far, no one has been prosecuted. But that does not worry us too much. The law was nevertheless necessary and has had a significant impact (FGM rates have decreased at an unknown speed in all documented regions, except for small, less well documented  cases in Israel).

The law was needed in Iraqi Kurdistan for several reasons :

  • The initiative of women in parliament to draft a law has sparked a broad debate in society.
  • The law now obliges government agencies to combat female genital mutilation or (at least initially) not to interfere with our work.
  • The television stations have broadcast our announcements informing about the law.
  • Our anti-FGM teams are using the law to remind religious leaders not to preach about FGM.
  • Midwives, teachers, students, majors, policemen and women, etc. are trained according to the law. It would be much more difficult to justify workshops for entire professional fields solely by reference to a “value”.
  • Different groups, such as midwives, need to commit to and respect the law.
  • Both the UN and the Kurdish government are interested and waiting to see results and therefore support the studies.
  • The government is proud to promote the reduction of FGM rates as an example of their success.

Nevertheless, this success would not be possible everywhere, primarily because it is deeply linked to the democratic nature of the system.”

It is clear that one of the reasons why the law in Kurdistan has had such an important effect is the democratic process in which the people approve the government and parliament. Thus, they own this law whether they like it or not. There is also no resistance to “Western” values, as we see in many other places. Especially in the case of FGM, there was not much “Western” involvement in the law. At the time, the UN did not even recognize that FGM existed in Iraq.

In non-democratic countries, conditions are different. A law remains necessary, but for other reasons: in despotic regimes, you have to strongly state that your anti-FGM action is in line with the government’s policy. 

“The Community of Practice on Female Genital Mutilation” is part of the “Building Bridges between Africa and Europe to tackle FGM” project, supported by the “UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on the Elimination of FGM”.
The project is coordinated by AIDOS in partnership with GAMS Belgium.

The views expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UNFPA, UNICEF or any other agency or organization.

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