In 2003 two Kurdish filmmakers began exposing the hidden practice of female genital mutilation in Iraqi Kurdistan. It was the start of a ten-year odyssey through villages in the region. Filmmakers Nabaz Ahmed and Sama Fariq, with the help of Shara Amin, worked with NGOs Wadi and Hivos to create a film to help shock authorities into action
Together they captured for the first time the horror of this ancient practice in a film called A Handful of Ash. The filmmakers were able to persuade girls and women to speak frankly about the horror of FGM, from aspects to the effect on women’s sex lives to mothers struggling against their own communities to protect their daughters from mutilation.
The documentary was shown in the Kurdish Regional parliament, and became a key tool for a campaign to ban FGM in the region. With the impact of the the film, petitions, leafleting and the tireless work of local charities, it was a campaign that was ultimately successful – the bill was passed to outlaw the practice.
Guardian Films and BBC Arabic co-produced a documentary of the filmmakers’ ten-year project. Cutting the Girls was first released in Arabic, with an estimated audience of 22 million. WorldView has funded the crucial English-language version of the film. It is being shown to lawmakers in Nigeria, which has the world’s largest number of females with FGM – approximately 28 million, to help kickstart a campaign for a ban, again by using the media.
According to research by Wadi, an Iraqi-German NGO, FGM rates in some parts of Kurdistan have fallen by 60 per cent in a decade. But while the law might have changed, it will take more time and effort to change attitudes in order to eradicate this practice.
Image on home page from a series by Andrea Bruce
Many thanks to WorldView for its support, and we hope to build on this powerful media partnership to eradicate the practice within a generation. Maggie O’Kane, Editor, Guardian Multimedia Investigations; and Editorial Director, Guardian Films