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Swiss give support for FGM/C eradication

© UNICEF Somalia
Halimo during the meeting in Thies, Senegal.

November 2006 - UNICEF Somalia is working in partnership with the international NGO ‘Tostan’ to introduce an innovative approach to the abandonment of Female Genital Mutiliation/Cutting (FGM/C) in Somalia.

Based on community empowerment, this holistic, non-formal education programme works in national languages with inter-marrying communities to address issues such as democracy and good governance, human rights and responsibilities, problem solving, hygiene, health, literacy and management skills. It uses innovative, participatory methods based on African oral traditions such as stories, poetry, theatre and song. Practical literacy skills then reinforce these themes, enabling participants to review and share new knowledge with neighbours and relatives.  Through a process of ‘Organised Diffusion’, selected communities transfer their knowledge to neighbouring communities effectively doubling the impact.

Forty two intermarrying communities and three national NGOs are participating in the community empowerment process across Somalia. It is anticipated that after the initial three year phase leading to public declaration of FGM/C abandonment, these NGOs will have sufficient capacity to continue the approach in additional communities. In October 2006, twelve Somali Coordinators, Supervisors and NGO Representatives completed phase one of the training of trainers in Thies, Senegal...

On a hot and humid October day, three small groups of Somali people walk slowly toward Room 4, the spacious thatch-roofed room where, along with 11 Gambian participants, they have been actively participating in the 30 day training of trainers seminar held in Thiès, Senegal. It is Ramadan, the holy Muslim month of fasting, praying and meditation. At 3:30 in the afternoon, there are still three and half hours to go without food or water.

Yet, the responsibility to go back to Somalia with a clear understanding of the Tostan programme and method is enough to face heat, hunger and fatigue. There are twelve participants, 8 men and 4 women, all looking forward to the upcoming session. They all have graciously adopted Senegalese, Gambians and American names that make each one of them smile when called. Yes, they all feel that they are now citizens of the world.    

One of them, Halimo Abdi Mohamud, a 40 year old mother of four from Beletweyne (in Central South Somalia) watches attentively as the Tostan PowerPoint presentation unfolds.  At times, she nods, remembering previous group discussions on human rights, and getting a better understanding of the Tostan approach. She waits, impatiently, for the end of the presentation to either question some of the comments made by the facilitator and her fellow participants or to share related ideas.

It is hard to imagine that two weeks earlier, Halimo would barely speak during class sessions. She would silently watch other participants get into challenging debates. She used to turn her head when asked for her own opinion.  Now, Halimo contributes often to the discussions, be it on the adaptability of the Tostan method to the Somali culture, or on the importance of knowing human rights. 

Halimo confesses: “Something happened to me during these last three weeks. I have been constantly challenged.  As a result, I started reacting to the debate around me because I realized that, like any other human being, I had something to say.”  She attributes her new confidence to the environment in which the seminar is held. “The sessions are not a one way discussion during which the facilitator has all the right answers.  I felt that my thoughts are important and everyone wanted to hear them.”

When asked why she decided to participate in this one-month seminar leaving young children behind in Somalia, she answers: “Yes, I miss my children and husband. But, because of my dream of seeing a peaceful Somalia, a Somalia where people’s human rights are respected through the abandonment of female genital cutting and early marriage, I knew it was important for me to attend the seminar so that I can learn and use that knowledge to improve the lives of rural communities in Beletweyne.”

Halimo explains the link she sees between Tostan’s respectful, holistic approach and the positive response the organization has already received from rural communities in Senegal. “Because Tostan’s approach is practical and learner-centred, the many people in Somalia who have never been to formal school will identify with it. At the risk of sounding defensive, Halimo insists: “It is however, my responsibility as a Somali citizen and Tostan supervisor to challenge myself and ask the questions that I know the Somali participants will ask.”  One of those questions, according to Halimo, is why Somali people should abandon such an enmeshed cultural practice.  Her answer is clear: “Because the participants will have learnt about their human rights, they will see that it has now become a necessity to no longer subject any woman to such practices. Clearly, the Tostan programme is not about making choices for people. Rather, it is about trusting and knowing that they will make the right choice.”

When during one recent session, Halimo was asked what she would like to be remembered for a hundred years from now, she enthusiastically wrote: “I would like to be remembered as someone who lived a good life, worked for achieving the respect of human rights and helped to end the problems of early marriage and female genital cutting in Somalia.  Insha Allah it will happen!”



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