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Somalia, 23 March 2016: A teenager who suffered through FGM/C works with her community to end the practice

© CEDA 2016
Istarlin addressing her feelings and success in an interview during a field monitoring visit by CEDA CP staff.

Dollow, Gedo Somalia, 23 March 2016 – Istarlin Mohamed is only 17, but has already suffered more hardship than others would face in a lifetime. She lives in a small camp for the internally displaced, in Dollow District of Gedo Region. She already has three children and has been married and divorced twice.

In 2006, at the age of seven, Istarlin who was born into a nomadic family in Baidoa, was subjected to female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) by her family. The family had been under pressure from the community and risked being ostracized if she failed to face the knife. Istarlin had watched her grandmother carry out several circumcisions in the house.

''The girls screamed loudly in pain and for days they were rendered totally immobile,” she says.

Istarlin was also forced to undergo the procedure. She was then married at the age of 12 and her first child was born. She developed prolonged labour complications (probably caused by the FGM/C and her lack of physical development due to her young age) that caused recto-vaginal fistula – a hole between the vaginal wall and the rectum, which allows bowel contents to leak into the vagina, a painful and embarrassing condition. When she had her second child a year later, her condition grew worse and her husband divorced her. She re-married, but it did not last very long, since her husband divorced her when he discovered her condition. By then she was already expecting her third child. Her father then tried to marry her off as a fourth wife to a 68 year old man, but she fled from her family.

“I look older than my age because of the hard life I have suffered,” she said. “Our family never had regular meals and sometimes the children went to bed hungry as we could only afford one meal a day.”

She was given counselling by the local NGO, Community Empowerment and Development Action (CEDA), along with some economic support.

“This assistance is helping me to recover from the trauma and I have started evening basic education lessons,’’ she said.

She decided to channel all her energy to helping other girls. In 2016, Istarlin was selected to be on the Child Protection Committee (CPC). Her core responsibilities as a volunteer included working with the boys, girls, women and men’s groups to advocate against FGM/C for girls. She also works with the education structures to reach out to boys, girls, teachers and the School Management Committees. She works closely with other sectors like Health, Nutrition, Education and Food security and livelihoods to flag issues that could predispose children to exploitation and abuse.

Istarlin has found that trying to encourage broader behaviour change through education is not easy.

“Educating communities is very difficult, as people are very stubborn and not willing to change the habits they have had for ages, even if they contravene human rights. But at the end of the day it gives me the satisfaction that I have done my part,” she says.

 

 
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