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Somalia, 3 December 2014: Villagers in northern Somalia battle against female circumcision

UNICEF Somalia/2014/Price
© UNICEF Somalia/2014/Price
Two members of a village Child Protection Committee in north east Somalia – one with her grand daughter (r) and the other a former circumcisor.

3 December 2014, BIRTA DHEERA, Puntland Somalia – A small, well kept village along the Garowe to Galkayo road in Puntland, north Somalia is undergoing a quiet revolution.

Families, elders and religious leaders are discussing putting an end to the long practised tradition of female circumcision. Somalia has one of the highest global rates of female circumcision, also known as female genital mutilation/cutting or FGM/C with 95 per cent of Puntland women saying they had undergone the procedure.

Families in Birta Dheer were initially encouraged to stop the practice by an international NGO Tostan and through a local NGO TASS which worked with community elders and religious leaders to combat misconceptions such as the widely held belief that it is an Islamic requirement or that uncircumcised girls were unclean and would be unable to marry. A local religious leaders’ network IIHSAN also helped out.

“We used to think those who were uncircumcised were halal,” said Bisharaa who has two small daughters. “But since we have become more aware I now think of the pain the girls undergo and the problems women have giving birth because of circumcision.”

The circumcision is traditionally carried out on girls aged between 5 and 10 often by a traditional ‘cutter’ who may use a knife or scissors. Girls can suffer infections or excessive bleeding and later often experience difficulties in child birth.

Asli Jama, who used to carry out circumcisions, says she has not done one for two years.

“When we attended the awareness raising then we realised it was not good for the young girls,” she said.

UNICEF Somalia/2014/Price
© UNICEF Somalia/2014/Price
A member of a Child Protection Committee in a self declared FGM/C free village in Puntland, Somalia with her daughter.

The campaign is promoted by the village Child Protection Committee, supported by UNICEF, which brings together local men and women to discuss and act on issues such as child labour and sexual violence in the community which is made up of 140 households.

The chair of the Committee, Mohamed Mohamud, says they started discussing the issue in 2006 and they had reached out to cutters, families and schools to spread the word that this was a harmful practice.

“In the town we have stopped but we can’t control the rural areas,” he said. “But I certainly wouldn’t cut my daughters,” he added his arm around his eight year old Nimo.

Not everyone seemed convinced. One grandmother Ainabo said that the practice had a long tradition. “Our grandmothers did it and I did it for my daughters,” she said. Others suggested that the less severe form of circumcision than the one normally carried out was preferable.

The local Sheikh is convinced. “There are no verses in the Holy Koran that say you should do this and that is what I have been saying in the mosques and at all meetings,” said Ibrahim Sheikh.

The Swiss NATCOM, Dutch NATCOM, Japan Trust Fund have all funded the initiatives to stop FGM/C. Support has also been provided by the Joint UNICEF/UNFPA Program on FGM/C abandonment and Joint Health and Nutrition Program ( JHNP) .

In a household survey carried out by UNICEF in Puntland, nearly 58 per cent of women said they approved of FGM/C which suggests a change in attitudes. Religious leaders in Puntland issued a FATWA against FGM a year ago and the Puntland Government issued a policy against all forms of the practice earlier this year.

 

 
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