Female genital mutilation performed in Iran

The first in-depth report into female genital mutilation (FGM) in Iran has claimed that the practise is prevalent in "secret pockets" of at least four provinces of Iran and "continues to violate aspects of women's sexual rights."

The report, authored by Kameel Ahmady, a research anthropologist based in London was released today to coincide with the International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression observed every year on 4 June.

The report exposes the regions of Iran in which FGM is occurring and the "abundance of reasons women use to justify the act" and aims to provide the building blocks for an effective strategy to combat FGM in Iran.

Over a period of 10 years, Ahmady interviewed over 3,000 Iranian women, all of whom had experienced FGM, as well as speaking to 1,000 men who were also aware that the practise went on. His report identifies that FGM, known in Iran as "Khatne" or "Sonat," is most common in the southern province of Hormozgan but is also found in rural Muslim communities based in Kurdistan, Kermanshah, and West Azerbaijan.

Ahmady identifies that the ritual, most common in Iran's small minority of Shafi'i Sunni Muslims, is practised for a number of reasons, for example "to tame girls' sex drive before marriage." In many cases, FGM is also seen as a rite of passage for Iranian girls and is primarily encouraged by women and mothers who insist that their daughters are cut to make them "more virtuous than the majority Shia girls".

Ahmady told the Guardian newspaper that the majority of women he spoke to who were circumcised defended FGM, saying that it is "a tradition that had existed for hundreds of years".

Hilary Burrage, a consultant sociologist in the UK who has just finished writing a book on FGM, Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation: A UK Perspective told Newsweek of the secrecy surrounding the topic of FGM in rural areas of Iran. "Silence is one fundamental reason FGM remains a problem in Iran; there is, in many countries, simply not a language for women to discuss these matters."

Burrage explained that this complete lack of discourse surrounding FGM is not only common between men and women, but also between women themselves. Both the lack of vocabulary surrounding the topic of FGM and women's entitlement to use it "has led to a basic lack of understanding about how people's bodies work," Burrage said.

The report identifies that although FGM is not practised in every part of Iran, it is a cultural tradition that predates Islam itself. In fact the practise of FGM is known to date back to Egypt 2000 years ago, as a ritual of the Egyptian aristocracy, according to research carried out by the FGM National Clinical Group.

In 2015 FGM remains prevalent in approximately 30 different countries across Africa and the Middle East. In Africa, it is most common in Somalia, where 98% of girls are cut and Guinea where 96% of girls are cut. It is also prevalent in Oman and Iraqi Kurdistan, where between 72%-78% of girls are cut. The practise can also be found in small immigrant communities within Europe, such as the UK and France.

According to The World Health Organization, between 100-140 million girls and women have experienced FGM across Africa and the Middle East. Unicef estimates that without international action to stop the ritual, the number of girls cut each year will grow from 3.6 million in 2013 to 6.6 million by 2050.