Towards abandoning female genital mutilation/ cutting in Somalia for once, and for all
By Ban Al-Dhayi
Somalia has a high prevalence rate of female genital mutilation/cutting. UNICEF and partners are pushing to effect genuine change towards abandoning the practice – for once, and for all.
BOORAMA, northwest Somalia, 27 February 2013 – Ten-year-old Kheiriya has a secret. The secret is that, unlike most girls her age in Boorama, she has not been circumcised. The soft-spoken girl is scared to let others know.
“I have to hide it from my friends and teachers. I cannot tell them I am not cut, because they would say: you are haram [impure], and no man would marry you,” she says.
High rate of FGM/C
Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) is the cutting, partial or total removal, of the external female genitalia for cultural, religious or other non-medical reasons. It is usually performed on girls between the ages of 4 and 10 and is also known as female circumcision.
Somalia has one of the highest prevalence rates of female circumcision in the world. In a recent survey, at least 98 per cent of women said they had undergone the process, which is performed by traditional practitioners using a knife or razor blade on girls aged between 4 and 8.
Work to end FGM/C
Since 1996, UNICEF has approached FGM/C in Somalia from religious, medical, community and cultural perspectives. UNICEF has worked with religious leaders to help dispel the widespread misconception that it is an Islamic expectation and duty.
“Shying away from admitting there has been a serious problem in Somalia and a harmful practice in place for hundreds of years will only make the problem worse,” says prominent Imam and State Religious Affairs Councillor in northwest Somalia Sheikh Yahya Ibrahim.
Girls and women are subjected to health risks which have life-threatening consequences based on false beliefs that have nothing whatever to do with religious or medical teachings.”
Under the UNFPA–UNICEF Joint Programme, child protection committees and advocates have engaged over 300,000 community members and stakeholders in meetings on FGM/C abandonment in Puntland and Somaliland. The Joint Programme has also provided technical assistance to line ministries, and has brought together authorities, religious leaders, youth, educators, women and men to discuss and reach consensus on ending FGM/C. Events commemorating the International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM/C, 6 February, reached over 30,000 community members with public debates, community dramas and other activities.
“Personally, I don’t want my daughters to experience the same trauma and fear I had to go through in my childhood,” says Nimo, mother of 2-year-old and 8-month-old girls. “I want to abandon circumcision, but only when the entire community does so; I don’t want to be the only one going against the social norms.”
“A genuine change in the beliefs and practices around FGM/C in Somalia can only be achieved through persistent dialogue at the community level and the translation of the insights from dialogue into practice,” says UNICEF Somalia Chief of Child Protection Programme Sheema Sen Gupta. “We need to focus on young girls and, specifically, assisting those responsible for them to make a deliberate stand against the practice.”
There have also been important changes on the policy level on abandoning FGM/C in Somalia. In 2012, the new Somali Constitution outlawed all forms of FGM/C. In line with the Constitution, a draft decree outlawing all forms of FGM/C is awaiting consensus from religious leaders before presentation to the Cabinet for approval. To date, a policy on FGM/C abandonment in northwest Somalia has been finalized, while work is ongoing to finalize policy in the northeast region.