The perils of FGM

About Bilan Media

Bilan is Somalia’s first ever all-women media team. Staffed and run entirely by women with full editorial independence, the unit covers hard news and in-depth features, holding leaders to account and making sure the media represents all citizens, men and women, weak and powerful, rich and poor.

View all posts by Bilan Media

When Jubaland’s minister for women and human rights, Adar Jurati, heard that a girl had been rushed to hospital in Kismayo after being seriously injured during circumcision, she rushed to the area where the procedure took place.

She found that 21 young girls had been circumcised on the same day. They were from nomadic and farming communities, and had moved to the outskirts of Kismayo because of serious drought in their home areas.

Ms Jurati distributed medication to the girls and warned that women who circumcise could be punished. She said she would work on a community awareness campaign about the dangers of FGM.

The mother of one of the circumcised girls said she asked the cutter to circumcise her daughter in the Suna or Type 1 way which is less extreme than the method traditionally used in Somalia.

“But the woman who performed the circumcision did it in a far more brutal way,” she said. My daughter was bleeding for eight hours because the procedure had been done so roughly.”

The girl’s mother insisted that circumcision was obligatory for girls, and that she and all other women from rural communities had undergone FGM. Many Somalis see the procedure as a fundamental part of their culture.

The United Nations Family Planning Association’s Somalia representative Niyi Ojuolape strongly condemned the circumcision of the Kismayo girls. She described the incident as “shocking and deeply disturbing” and that the girls were too young to give their informed consent.

She said the UN would work closely with the Jubaland state government to discourage the practice, which she said was “a grave violation of human rights, a horrific form of gender-based violence and a serious child protection issue”.

The UN says Somalia has the highest rates of female circumcision in the world, with 98 percent of girls between the ages of five and 11 undergoing the procedure.

Attitudes towards FGM are changing slowly in Somalia, with more and more people speaking out against it.

Ifrah Ahmed decided to campaign against the practice when she was living in Ireland.

“The doctors there were surprised that I had been cut,” she said. “I thought it was a completely normal thing but they made me aware that it was not. Then and there, I decided to advocate against FGM.”

Ms Ahmed has now returned to Somalia where she is disturbed to see so many girls being circumcised.

“An effective anti-circumcision law needs to be passed,” she said. “Circumcision is similar to murder and murder is illegal.”

There have been attempts to outlaw circumcision in Somalia, including the draft constitution which bans the practice. However, FGM continues at a high rate in the country.

Sacdia Mohamed Noor of the Ministry of Women says the government is advocating for an end to FGM.

“But some religious scholars and leaders insist it must go on,” she says. “Our ministry is working with the religious community to try to persuade them to see the light.”