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A significant number of girls and women in Iraqi Kurdistan suffer female genital mutilation (FGM) and its destructive after-effects, Human Rights Watch said today in a new report. The Kurdistan Regional Government should take immediate action to end FGM and develop a long term plan for its eradication, including passing a law to ban the practice, Human Rights Watch said.
The 73-page report, "'They Took Me and Told Me Nothing': Female Genital Mutilation in Iraqi Kurdistan," documents the experiences of young girls and women who undergo FGM against a backdrop of conflicting messages from some religious leaders and healthcare professionals about the practice's legitimacy and safety. The report describes the pain and fear that girls and young women experience when they are cut, and the terrible toll that it takes on their physical and emotional health. It says the regional government has been unwilling to prohibit FGM, despite its readiness to address other forms of gender-based violence, including domestic violence and so-called honor killings.
"FGM violates women's and children's rights, including their rights to life, health, and bodily integrity," said Nadya Khalife, Middle East women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. "It's time for the regional government to step up to the plate and take concrete actions to eliminate this harmful practice because it simply won't go away on its own."
Human Rights Watch researchers conducted interviews during May and June 2009, with 31 girls and women in four villages of northern Iraq and in the town of Halabja. Researchers also interviewed Muslim clerics, midwives, healthcare workers, and government officials. Local nongovernmental organizations say that FGM may also be practiced among other communities in the rest of Iraq, but there are no data on its prevalence outside the Kurdish region.
The prevalence of FGM in Iraqi Kurdistan is not fully known as the government does not routinely collect information on the practice. However, research conducted by local organizations indicates that the practice is widespread and affects a significant number of girls and women.
The evidence obtained by Human Rights Watch suggests that for many girls and women in Iraqi Kurdistan, FGM is an unavoidable procedure that they undergo sometimes between the ages of 3 and 12. In some cases documented by Human Rights Watch, societal pressures also led adult women to undergo the procedure, sometimes as a precondition of marriage.
Human Rights Watch met Gola, a 17-year-old student from the village of Plangan. Gola told Human Rights Watch, "I remember my mother and her sister-in-law took us two girls, and there were four other girls. We went to Sarkapkan for the procedure. They put us in the bathroom, held our legs open, and cut something. They did it one by one with no anesthetics. I was afraid, but endured the pain. I have lots of pain in this specific area they cut when I menstruate."
Young girls and women described how their mothers had taken them to the home of the village midwife, a non-licensed practitioner. They were almost never told in advance what was going to happen to them. When they arrived, the midwife, sometimes with the help of the mother, spread the girl's legs and cut her clitoris with a razor blade. Often, the midwife used the same razor to cut several girls in succession.
Doctors in Iraqi Kurdistan told Human Rights Watch that the most common type of FGM believed to be practiced there is partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or prepuce, also known as clitoridectomy. Health care workers said that an even more invasive procedure was sometimes performed on adult women in hospitals. The practice serves no medical purpose and can lead to serious physical and emotional consequences.
The previous regional government took some steps to address FGM, including a 2007 Justice Ministry decree, supposedly binding on all police precincts, that perpetrators of FGM should be arrested and punished. However, the existence of the decree is not widely known, and Human Rights Watch found no evidence that it has ever been enforced.
In 2008, the majority of members of the Kurdistan National Assembly (KNA) supported the introduction of a law banning FGM, but the bill was never enacted into law and its status is unknown. In early 2009, the Health Ministry developed a comprehensive anti-FGM strategy in collaboration with a nongovernmental organization. But the ministry later withdrew its support and halted efforts to combat FGM. A public awareness campaign about FGM and its consequences has also been inexplicably delayed.
The new government, elected in July 2009, has taken no steps to eradicate the practice.
The origins of FGM in Iraqi Kurdistan are unclear. Some girls and women interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they were told that it is rooted in a belief that anything they touch is haram, or unclean, until they go through this painful procedure, while others said that FGM was a traditional custom. Most women referred to FGM as an Islamic sunnah, an action taken to strengthen one's religion that is not obligatory.
The association of FGM with Islam has been rejected by many Muslim scholars and theologians, who say that FGM is not prescribed in the Quran and is contradictory to the teachings of Islam. Women and girls interviewed said they had received mixed messages from clerics about whether it was a religious obligation. Clerics interviewed said that when any practice interpreted as sunnah endangers people's lives, it is the duty of the clerics to stop it.
Health care workers interviewed gave mixed responses both about their concerns about the harm FGM causes and about their obligation to raise awareness about the dangers of FGM.
Two studies have been conducted recently to try to determine the prevalence of the practice. In January 2009, the former Human Rights Ministry conducted a study in the Chamchamal district with a sample of 521 students ages 11 to 24. It found that 40.7 percent of the sample had undergone the procedure - 23 percent of girls under age13, and 45 percent of those ages 14 and older.
In 2010, the Association for Crisis Assistance and Development Co-operation (WADI), a German-Iraqi human rights nongovernmental organization, published the results of a study conducted between September 2007 and May 2008 in the provinces of Arbil and Sulaimaniya, and the Germian/Kirkuk region. Interviews with 1,408 women and girls ages 14 and over found that 72.7 percent had undergone the procedure - 77.9 percent in Sulaimaniya, 81.2 percent in Germian, and 63 percent in Arbil.
The wider age range of girls and women interviewed may account in part for the higher overall percentages. The percentage was 57 percent for those ages 14 to 18 in this study.
Human Rights Watch called on the regional authorities to develop a long-term plan that involves government, health care workers, clerics, and communities in efforts to eradicate the practice. The strategy should include a law to ban FGM for children and non-consenting adult women; awareness raising programs on the health consequences of FGM; and the mainstreaming of FGM prevention into policies and programs for reproductive health, education, and literacy development.
The government also should work closely with communities and people of influence in those communities to encourage debate about the practice among men, women, and children, including awareness and understanding of the human rights of girls and women, Human Rights Watch said.
"The government not only needs to take action to end this practice, but to work for public affirmation of a new standard - not mutilating their girls," Khalife said.
"FGM is a complex issue, but its harm to girls and women is clear," Khalife said. "Eradicating it in Iraqi Kurdistan will require strong and dedicated leadership on the part of the regional government, including a clear message that FGM will no longer be tolerated."
Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.
The treasury secretary's warning came as a Biden administration official said the president won't invoke the 14th Amendment in order to avoid a first-ever U.S. default.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Friday warned Congress that the United States government will run out of money to pay its bills on June 5 if lawmakers don't reach an agreement to raise the nation's debt ceiling.
"Based on the most recent available data, we now estimate that Treasury will have insufficient resources to satisfy the government's obligations if Congress has not raised or suspended the debt limit by June 5," Yellen wrote in a letter to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
"We have learned from past debt limit impasses that waiting until the last minute to suspend or increase the debt limit can cause serious harm to business and consumer confidence, raise short-term borrowing costs for taxpayers, and negatively impact the credit rating of the United States," Yellen noted. "In fact, we have already seen Treasury's borrowing costs increase substantially for securities maturing in early June."
Earlier this month, Yellen said that the so-called "X-date"—the day on which the first-ever U.S. default will occur—could come as early as June 1.
"If Congress fails to increase the debt limit, it would cause severe hardship to American families, harm our global leadership position, and raise questions about our ability to defend our national security interests," she stressed in Friday's letter.
\u201cJanet Yellen updates the X date\u2026 it is now next Monday, June 5.\n\nLetter to Congress:\u201d— Julie Tsirkin (@Julie Tsirkin) 1685132574
As The New York Timesnotes:
Ms. Yellen's letter comes as the White House and House Republicans have been racing to agree on a deal that would lift the nation's $31.4 trillion borrowing cap and prevent the United States from defaulting on its debt. The Treasury Department hit the debt limit on January 19 and has since been employing accounting maneuvers to ensure the United States can continue paying its bills on time...
On Friday, she detailed that the federal government is due to make more than $130 billion in scheduled payments during the first two days of June—including payments to veterans and Social Security and Medicare recipients—leaving the Treasury Department with "an extremely low level of resources"...
While negotiators have been in round-the-clock talks, no deal has been announced. Still, the contours of an agreement between the White House and Republicans are taking shape. That deal would raise the debt limit for two years while imposing strict caps on discretionary spending not related to the military or veterans for the same period.
Biden administration officials and congressional Democrats have accused Republicans of "hostage-taking" during the debt limit standoff, an allegation embraced by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) earlier this week.
Scores of Democratic lawmakers and progressive advocates have called on President Joe Biden to exercise his constitutional authority and invoke the 14th Amendment—which states in part that "the validity of the public debt of the United States... shall not be questioned."
However, Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said Friday that Biden will not invoke the 14th Amendment.
"The 14th Amendment can't solve our challenges," Adeyemo asserted on CNN. "Now, ultimately, the only thing that can do that is Congress doing what it's done 78 other times, raising the debt limit."
"We don't have a Plan B that allows us to meet the commitments that we've made to our creditors, to our seniors, to our veterans, to the American people," Adeyemo added ominously.
"Banning buying homes based on citizenship and registering your property did not bode well in history," said one lawmaker. "This is the Republicans rewriting the Chinese Exclusion Act."
Days after a group of Chinese citizens sued Florida's government over its new law restricting Chinese citizens from purchasing property in the state, U.S. Rep. Al Green this week warned of a "proliferation" of such bans and unveiled federal legislation to prohibit them.
The proposal would affirm that federal law, such as the Fair Housing Act, takes precedence over state bans restricting who can and cannot legally purchase real estate or farmland. It would also allow people to sue in federal court and have a right to court-ordered relief including an injunction if they've been harmed by bans like the one approved by Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The Fair Housing Act explicitly prohibits discrimination in housing based on national origin, race, sex, gender identity, religion, and disability.
Despite the long-standing law, Florida this month became the latest state to pass restrictions on property ownership, targeting Chinese, Russian, Iranian, Syrian, Cuban, Venezuelan, and North Korean citizens. DeSantis claimed Chinese people have been "gobbling up" land in the state and said the law is intended to stop the Chinese Communist Party from gaining influence and spying in the state.
"That is not in the best interests of Florida to have the Chinese Communist Party owning farmland, owning land close to military bases," said the governor, who announced his 2024 presidential campaign this week.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, also a Republican, signed a ban on Chinese companies buying property in March, and the Texas Legislature had advanced a similar bill targeting companies and government entities headquartered in China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran.
According to the National Agricultural Law Center, 21 states have laws restricting foreign ownership of farmland. More than 30 states have drafted or advanced legislation to either tighten those restrictions or introduce new ones.
"I don't think we ought to allow 50 states to have the opportunity to pass laws that can impact foreign affairs, which really is the province of the executive branch of the federal government," Green told HuffPost on Thursday. "I don't think we should wait until we get 30, 50, whatever number of different laws to act."
The measures have drawn comparisons to the so-called "alien land laws" that were in place in the early 20th century before being struck down by courts and state legislatures. The laws prohibited Chinese and Japanese immigrants from owning land and "severely exacerbated violence and discrimination against Asian communities," according to the ACLU, which is representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed in Florida this week.
"Banning buying homes based on citizenship and registering your property did not bode well in history... This is the Republicans rewriting the Chinese Exclusion Act," said Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) this week, referring to the 1882 law that banned Chinese workers from immigrating to the United States.
\u201c\u2026when you ask me why we worry about anti-China rhetoric\u2026 many people can\u2019t differentiate between someone who works for the CCP from an average Chinese American. These laws will increase anti Asian suspicion & hate. https://t.co/z7j9TuyfA3\u201d— Grace Meng (@Grace Meng) 1684285341
Contrary to DeSantis' claim that Chinese citizens are buying large amounts of property across Florida, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency, foreigners owned only 3.1% of farmland at the end of 2021, and about a third of that land was owned by Canadians. Less than 1% of the land—0.03% of all farmland in the U.S.—was owned by Chinese citizens or entities.
"Hey, hey! What we knew would happen: Make the wealthiest pay their fair share and it finances investments in education, transportation, and more," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal.
Proponents of progressive taxation on Friday pointed to data showing Washington state stands poised to reap $849 million in revenue during the first year of its capital gains tax as proof that taxing the rich works—and could serve as a template for federal legislation.
The Seattle Timesreports that when Washington state lawmakers passed this fiscal year's budget, they anticipated collecting $248 million in revenue from the 7% tax on the sale or exchange of stocks, bonds, and certain other assets above $250,000.
However, the legislators were pleasantly surprised when figures showed the state has collected over $600 million more than that.
While the amount collected could change after around 2,500 taxpayers who applied for extensions file their returns, progressives welcomed the windfall that will fund public schools, early childhood education, and building and repairing schools across the state.
"Hey, hey! What we knew would happen: Make the wealthiest pay their fair share and it finances investments in education, transportation, and more," tweeted Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).
\u201cTurns out taxing the rich is a really good idea and can help fund our public schools https://t.co/HX2dPp63UX\u201d— Robert Cruickshank (@Robert Cruickshank) 1685113329
Jayapal touted federal legislation she introduced with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in 2021—the Ultra-Millionaire Tax Act—that would levy a 2% annual tax on the net worth of households and trusts above $50 million, plus a 1% annual surtax on billionaires.
An analysis by University of California, Berkeley economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman found that the legislation would bring in at least $3 trillion in revenue over 10 years without raising taxes on 99.95% of American households worth less than $50 million.
Last month, Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) introduced the For the 99.5% Act, which would impose a 45% tax on estates worth between $3.5 million and $10 million, a 50% tax on estates worth between $10 million and $50 million, a 55% tax on estates worth between $50 million and $1 billion, and a 65% tax on estates valued at over $1 billion.
Meanwhile, congressional Republicans are trying to repeal the estate tax entirely—and pass other tax policies to serve the rich.
Back at the state level, California, New York, Illinois, Maryland, Connecticut, and Hawaii have also introduced wealth tax bills this year, while Washington's law was upheld by that state's Supreme Court in March.
"If the federal government won't act," California Assemblymember Alex Lee (D-24) said while introducing a wealth tax bill in January, "we the states will."