The first authoritative study into female genital mutilation in Iran has found the practice is being carried out in at least four major provinces while officials are silent on the matter.
According to research by social anthropologist Kameel Ahmady released on Thursday, FGM is more prevalent in the southern province of Hormozgan and its nearby islands (Qeshm and Hormuz) than in any other parts of the country.
It is also being practised to a lesser degree in Kurdistan, Kermanshah and West Azerbaijan provinces, which are situated in western Iran close to the Iraq border.
Ahmady’s research shows that FGM is mainly an issue concerning the Shafi’i sect of Sunni Muslim Iranians, a minority in the Shia-dominated country. Only a small fraction of the Shia population living in proximity of Sunni communities practise FGM.
“FGM is practised in Iran in some cases to tame girls’ sex drive before marriage; it is made to preserve their chastity,” said Ahmady. “The attitude of officials and authorities is that FGM doesn’t exist in Iran. The Iranian public is also largely ignorant about the subject.”
Ahmady first decided to focus on FGM in Iran when he was working with relief NGOs in Africa in early 2000s. Over the course of 10 years he has spoken to around 3,000 Iranian women who have experienced FGM in Iran, as well as 1,000 men. His research was published to coincide with the International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression, observed every year on 4 June.
“I returned to Iran in 2005 to study FGM in my home country and instantly I was shocked to discover that it even happened to the closest members of my own family and relatives,” he said. “In fact, many in Iran don’t have a clue that [FGM] is being practised in some parts of the country.”