Imagine coming from a society where Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is considered a norm or tradition. A rite of passage. A society where it was virtually impossible to confront your elders about a tradition you thought conflicted with how you understood something because it was considered a taboo. FGM in Somalia was carried out with pride and despite the effects, it had on the women and girls who had to go through it, it was passed on from one generation to another. No one questioned why it really needed to be done, what it’s actual benefits were or even why many women suffered after going through it. These and many other questions are what ran through my mind every day when I saw news of girls dying from this act.
One Sunday morning, 8 years ago, my friends and I decided to attend an FGM awareness session for young girls and women that was organized by UNICEF in Bosaso town. This was a good opportunity for us to get answers to some of our unanswered questions. During the session, we sat there unsure of how to react to the information that was being passed on. Everything was awkward. The fact that this was the first time we were in a session where FGM and the details about it, including the female genitalia, were being discussed in an open forum shook us. Was it not a taboo to talk about such so openly? I wondered. At some point, we even felt that UNICEF being foreign organization from a western country was here to lead us away from our culture. We were wrong.
The room filled with tension, fear, anger and frustration followed in too, as more about this act was put out in broad daylight. It was bad. Why would our parents and community allow such barbaric acts to be subjected to girls and women in the name of a rite of passage, I wondered. This was a lot to take in, and the fact that we couldn’t confront our parents and talk about this heinous act frustrated us more. Our hands were tied but not our voices. It dawned on me that I needed to do something about it and speak out. Educate more people and in the process learn more to create enough awareness about it. My journey to fight FGM had started.
After a few months, I was invited for a second FGM workshop and here the facilitators were more open to discussing more on the hard and painful facts of FGM, its consequences and ways we could help to raise awareness and stop it. Some of the health consequences included excessive bleeding which sometimes led to death, severe pain, shock, infections, psychological problems, menstrual problems, difficulty during labour and in some cases led to infertility.
In Somalia, FGM is prevalent with 98% practice according to UNICEF, and many people have continued to practice it as their tradition, culture, to preserve family honour and for social acceptance. It is also thought that it curbs a woman sexuality, chastity, as a requirement of eligibility for marriage, rite of passage, hygiene solutions while some believe it as a religious obligation even though this has been proven wrong. With all these reasons one would still wonder, why all this is done to a poor girl without her consent while all the benefits are misplaced and against her odds.
I have come to realize that this is actually done for no apparent reasons but as a reflection of deeply rooted inequalities between sexes. It constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women and girls. FGM violates basic human rights and more significantly it is a form of child abuse. FGM protects the misogyny against females as it is indirectly posed as a means to control women.
I then joined an organisation that fights against FGM in Somalia and our campaign still goes on to date. Even though FGM is not completely eliminated in Somalia, many activists like me are making an effort every single day to save a girl from undergoing FGM. FGM is practised in Somalia and in more than 28 countries worldwide. It is a harmful cultural practice which will take years to eliminate but it must all start with us, our families and the community showing an effort to stop it.
A few months ago, my friend and I decided to sit down and organize a workshop on ending FGM in my community in Galkayo. This was after the death of a 10-year-old girl who bled to death after undergoing FGM. This case caught the attention of the media and the world where it led to the first prosecution in Somalia history. However, a few weeks later, 2 other young sisters passed away on their way to the hospital from the village. This was frustrating as it had happened in my town. Even though the 3 cases were open to the public, nothing has been done to date. Many cases also go unreported and due to the ineffective systems in place to follow up and curb this practice.
Many young girls’ lives have been lost yet very few people are concerned with what should be done to stop this acts and save more lives. Somalia has no legal binding policies to prosecute FGM practitioners and therefore, we still have a long way to go. My journey to campaign against FGM will not stop until we forge ways to stop and eliminate FGM. I continue to advocate against this harmful practice and use every platform I get to speak for those girls and women who have been silenced and their voices not heard. My vision is to see a society with no room for FGM practice, discrimination and marginalization against girls and women, minority groups, disabled people and where fairness and justice are upheld and one where women get equal opportunities, economically, politically and socially to pursue personal and national developmental goals.
By Bisharo A. Hussein.