by Donald Kahle — CPT Delegation member to Iraq 31
July – 14 August

After receiving five cups of tea from homeless
families in Zharawa refugee camp, I returned to Suleimaniya ready to
believe that hospitality offered a recognizable path to peace. Then
I received this advice from CPTer Joe Mueller: “Notice the women.”
He could have said, “Notice how easily you don’t notice the
women.”

Hospitality naturally forms a circle, around a table
or a campfire, a project or a topic. But women orbit outside it,
shuttling to the kitchen, serving liquids hot and cold. We focus on
the men.

Then our delegation met Thomas Uwer. Uwer is the
chairman of the board for Wadi, one of the most enterprising and
inventive NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) we encountered in
Iraq.

“In less than a generation, eighty percent of
Iraq’s villages have been emptied,” Uwer begins. “After thirty
years of violence and war, sixty percent of Iraq’s population is
female. These women do seventy percent of the work.”

Most of the former villagers gravitated toward
cities, where the central government can more easily count and
control its people. But some went the opposite way, hunkering down
in or heading for the hills. If cosmopolitan city life has a
tendency to moderate or liberalize family systems, the survivalist
lifestyle can breed extremism. When patriarchy provides social
order, it strengthens over time. This trend can be invisible to NGOs
and news organizations, because they rely on infrastructure only
available in cities.

To make visible the invisible, Wadi sent field teams
to forty mountain villages, pairing one female doctor with one female
social worker. The teams talked to women and school-age girls and
learned that sixty percent of the women had been victims of so-called
“female circumcision.” In some villages, female genital
mutilation (FGM) was universal. By Wadi’s count, FGM is occurring
in eighty-four percent of the rural villages. UNICEF and the World
Health Organization don’t list Iraq in their worldwide campaign to
end FGM, because surveys and self-reporting didn’t uncover its
prevalence in rural Iraq.

Efforts to end the practice in Iraq are now
mobilizing. The Iraqi Parliament will probably pass a law against
it. Educational flyers are circulating. A website, www.
stopfgmkurdistan.org, gathers news of the effort in Kurdish, English,
and German languages. A petition against FGM signed by a few dozen
prominent citizens was published in the newspaper. Although
traditionalists asked Wadi not to publish the names or promote the
issue, saying, “If you publish this, you’ll make Kurdistan look
bad,” the petition gathered 14,000 further signatures in a single
month.

Ending FGM is not Wadi’s only focus. It has funded
schools for women to learn hairdressing and literacy and built a
shelter for women fleeing violence. It opened the first women-only
coffee house in Kurdistan.

Halabjah now has a Women’s Center, offering
counseling, legal advice, literacy training, or just a sympathetic
ear and a cup of tea. Success on the ground is measured one family
at a time. Statistics will take care of themselves.