Survivor turned advocate

Sharing personal experience to help end female genital mutilation

UNICEF Somalia
UNICEF Somalia/2021/Taxta
05 February 2021

“For years, the memory of the scissors haunted me,” says Fadumo*, a 38-year-old mother of eight. She is one of the millions of Somali women who have been subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM), a dangerous and harmful practice.

“I was nine years old when I was told that I would be circumcised,” Fadumo explains. “It would be in a good way, I was told. Promises of new clothes and money didn’t convince me. Neither did the fact that all my sisters had gone through it,” she adds. “But I was only a child. The process was very painful. I bled for days and I was sick for nearly two months. Some years later when my period started, it was agonizing, and I used to have a high fever.”

“When I was married, it was difficult to have sex, and when I got pregnant, I was taken to a hospital and had to be operated to deliver the baby,” Fadumo recounts. I heard my skin being cut and I still remember the sounds of stitching. I felt uncomfortable, depressed and worried.

Somali Women Development Centre/2021

Today, she is staunch advocate for eradicating FGM and takes part in women’s discussion groups at a safe space for women and girls, run by the Somali Women Development Centre with support from UNICEF.

“I share my personal experience with mothers of young girls so that they wouldn’t force their girls to go through what I did,” Fadumo says. “I talk about the dangers of FGM with my neighbours, particularly mothers and fathers raising girls. I explain how unsafe and painful it is being cut and I appeal to them to save their daughters from the experience.”

“The girls who have gone to school or university tend to listen to me,” she notes. “Women my age who have undergone the procedure also listen and appreciate me sharing my experience. But there are others who tell me that I’m wasting my time. Some of them laugh at me. Others just ignore me. Some people even claim that I’m being paid to advocate, or I’ve gone mad.”

Despite insults and discouragement, Fadumo continues to speak up. “I believe we need strong awareness and understanding of how harmful the practice really is. I also think that the younger generation, both girls and boys, need to urge their parents not to cut their sisters,” she clarifies.

“My brother has promised not to cut his daughters. I think he’s a great example of people advocating against FGM. We need to acknowledge and support him and others sharing his views,” she states.

“I’ve taken up the challenge to advocate for ending this practice completely. Any small task I can take to getting us closer to this goal, I will do it,” Fadumo says with unwavering commitment.

Somalia has one of the highest rates of FGM in the world. According to the latest Somali Health and Demographic Survey, 99 per cent of women, between the ages of 15 and 49, have been subjected to this harmful practice. UNICEF, together with the Somali Women Development Centre and other partners, is working towards eradicating it.

*Fadumo’s name has been changed to protect her identity.