This morning saw numerous horrifying reports concerning ISIS, that too-extreme-even-for-al-Qaeda militant Islamist group, and its new edict for Iraqi women and girls in Iraq's second largest city of Mosul. Their decree? Enforced female genital mutilation (FGM). The UN’s resident humanitarian coordinator in the region, Jacqueline Badcock, claimed that the fatwa (or, religious edict) applied to all females between the ages of 11 and 46.
Certainly ISIS's track record for brutality suggests that this isn't beyond the pale. In June the group established hardline Sharia law in the territories it had captured, insisting upon women being fully covered and encouraging them to stay in the home unless it was absolutely necessary for them to leave. Yet the viral reporting of the FGM decree has widely been debunked as a hoax. That said, it does offer an opportunity to remind ourselves that FGM is still very real. (And frightening.)
A recap of female genital mutilation
FGM refers to procedures that intentionally alter, injure, or remove female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The most common, and believe it or not, the least invasive, involves the partial or total removal of the clitoris. And if it’s not blatantly obvious, the procedures hold absolutely no health benefits for women. In fact, the direct opposite—procedures, most often done outside of proper medical centers, can cause severe bleeding, difficulty urinating, extreme pain, cysts, infections, and infertility. They also have a tendency to usher in complications during childbirth and increase the risk of newborn deaths.
The UN approved a resolution in December 2012 to ban the procedure, citing it as the grave human rights violation that it is.
And yet. The World Health Organization estimates that 125 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of FGM. The nauseating practice—usually carried out on young girls between infancy and age 15—still takes place in 29 countries throughout Africa and the Middle East.
Though the UN hadn't been reached for comment on the hoax, before it had been debunked, the UN official in Iraq said the practice “is something very new for Iraq.” Studies show, however, that FGM is prevalent in the Iraqi region of Kurdistan and beyond.
And while this particular horror of enforced FGM may not be real, ISIS has carried out myriad atrocities as it expands in Syria and asserts power in northern Iraq, zeroing in on cities around Baghdad. More than 5,000 Iraqis have died so far this year in the militant violence while a recent UN report finds that the violence has also internally displaced some 1.2 million Iraqis in recent months—including more than 600,000 since the beginning of June alone. Mass executions, torture, and the use of child soldiers have all been reported.
The deliberate or indiscriminate targeting of civilians, the killing of civilians, the use of civilians as shields, the hindering of access for civilians to humanitarian assistance may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity.
And an ISIS decree that was real this week? The militant group told Iraqi Christians in Mosul a few days ago to convert to Islam, pay a religious tax . . . or be executed. Thousands are fleeing and the number of those displaced only snowballing. So no enforced FGM—yet (we're reluctant to put anything past them)—but more death and destruction seems inevitable.