Fighting to change perceptions of FGM/C in Somalia
Mogadishu, 6 February 2014 - For centuries, Somalis have practiced Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), a procedure that has severe consequences for the health of thousands girls and women in the country. But through advocacy and education, Somalia is witnessing a gradual shift in perceptions, with more families rejecting FGM and opting for a healthier future for a new generation.
“Female Genital Mutilation is a practice that not only violates the ‘integrity’ of a woman’s body but also condemns women to a life of physical and psychological pain in particular with regards to childbirth and motherhood,” Fatiha Serour, Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Somalia, said. “FGM/C is a tool for controlling women and is therefore an infringement on their basic rights, including their reproductive ones.”
According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Somalia has a near-universal prevalence of FGM/C; it usually performed on girls between the ages of four and 10.
Asli Ahmed, now 30, was 10 years old when she underwent FGM/C. She has seven children, and has had to endure several cuts and stitches for each birth to be successful. She is determined to spare her own daughters the same pain.
“No girl of mine will get circumcised and I will advise anyone I meet against this practice. I will tell them that they should not cut and stitch their daughters,” she says.
Civil society organizations are working with women and girls to create awareness about the harmful effects of the practice. Sofia Abukar Sheikh is a community mobilizer and case worker with the Somali Women Development Centre (SWDC). Together with other social workers, she moves around Mogadishu creating awareness and appealing to communities not to subject their daughters to FGM/C. She says attitudes are slowly changing.
“FGM/C was worse before, it was very difficult to advise against it and I faced many issues in doing so. They would always say to us, this is something that always existed and is an ancient tradition practiced by our forefathers,” she says. “It took us a long time to convince them otherwise.”
Religious leaders are also getting behind the push to end FGM. Macalin Adam Mohamed Osman, an Imam in Mogadishu, advocates against FGM/C.
“I have one daughter and I have not circumcised her and I will not… This practice is not from Islam and it should not be practiced,” he said.
Somalia’s provisional constitution outlaws female circumcision, describing it as a “cruel and degrading customary practice”; anti-FGM/C campaigners are urging the government to play a more proactive role in preventing it.
In his message for the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, observed on 6 February under the theme, “Preserve the Best in Culture and Leave Harm Behind”, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon notes that “there are positive signs of progress in our global push to end this harmful practice.”
“Now our challenge is to give real meaning to this Day by using it to generate public support, trigger legal and practical advances, and help girls and women at risk of or affected by female genital mutilation,” he added. “The effect on individuals will be profound, sparing them pain and spurring their success.”