Background: Iraqi Kurdistan region is one of the areas where female genital mutilation is reportedly widely practiced but inadequately studied. The aim of this study was to determine (i) the prevalence of female genital mutilation among Muslim Kurdish women in Erbil city, (ii) the patterns and types of female genital mutilation, (iii) the factors associated with this practice and (iv) women’s knowledge and attitudes towards this practice.
Methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted in the primary health care centers and the Maternity Teaching Hospital in Erbil city, involving 1987 women aged 15–49 years. Data were obtained about female genital mutilation status and knowledge and perception towards this practice. The participants were clinically examined to verify the self-reported female genital mutilation status.
Results: The self-reported prevalence of female genital mutilation was 70.3%, while it was 58.6% according to clinical examination of the women’s genitalia. The most common type of female genital mutilation was type I (99.6%) and the most common age at which mutilation was performed was 4–7 years (60.2%). This practice was mostly performed by traditional birth attendants (72.5%). Only 6.4% of mutilated women reported having complications after mutilation, most commonly bleeding (3.6%). The practice was more reported among housewives (OR = 3.3), those women whose mothers were mutilated (OR = 15.1) or with unknown mutilation status (OR = 7.3) and those women whose fathers were illiterate (OR = 1.4) or could only read and write (OR = 1.6). The common reasons for practicing female genital mutilation were cultural tradition (46.7%) and dictate of religion (38.9%). Only 30% of the participants were aware about the health consequences of female genital mutilation. More than one third (36.6%) of the women support the practice and 34.5% have intention to mutilate their daughters.
Conclusions: Prevalence of female genital mutilation among Muslim Kurdish women in Erbil city is very high; although, most cases are of type I. There is clear lack of knowledge about the health consequences of female genital mutilation and a relatively important segment of women support this practice. Custom or tradition and dictate of religion are the main reasons for this practice that need further in-depth exploration.