Eradicating female genital mutilation/cutting in Somalia

‘I have convinced other mothers to not cut their daughters’

Date: Monday, April 19, 2021

A woman and girl participating in a project from ISF walk together. Muhammed Isra, photographer: Nyasha Kadandara, place: Magalo cad
ISF works with project participants to eradicate FGM/C in Magalo cad, Somaliland. Credit: Nyasha Kadandara, ISF

In Somaliland, Somalia, an estimated 90 per cent or more of girls and women have been subjected to female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C).[1] FGM/C has devastating health ramifications for women and girls, including pain, bleeding, permanent disability and even death. Discussion about this harmful traditional practice remains taboo and fear of ostracism makes it difficult for families to abandon.

The International Solidarity Foundation (ISF) has been working to eradicate FGM/C in Somaliland since 2001. Now, with support from the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, it is running a project in remote rural and internally displaced communities in three regions to empower villages to abandon all forms of FGM/C and empower at-risk women to claim their bodily integrity and freedom from violence, abuse and harassment. 

Activities include training civil society organizations, university students and journalists on issues relating to FGM/C and strengthening the capacity of women’s groups and associations. In addition, traditional and religious leaders have been engaged from the start.

COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented new challenges for the project to reach its goals. Prolonged school closures have provided cover for girls recovering from FGM/C. In addition, movement restrictions have prevented campaigners against FGM/C from accessing some villages.

The consequences for girls are severe as FGM/C has surged during the pandemic. NAFIS project officer Amina Hamud said:

“On several occasions, we have had to transport girls from remote villages to hospitals because of the heavy bleeding caused by FGM/C.”[2]

Despite the serious challenges posed by COVID-19, over 300 people representing different civil society organizations from across the country have attended regional and national coordination meetings run by ISF in recent months to discuss how best to continue the work to eradicate FGM/C in Somaliland.

Shifting attitudes

Though progress has been severely impacted by the pandemic, the organization is making strides to eradicate FGM/C. Alongside its local partners, the Network Against Female Genital Mutilation in Somaliland (NAFIS) and Candlelight, ISF worked with religious leaders in six areas of the capital Hargeisa to increase their awareness of the harmful consequences of FGM/C and encourage them to speak out against the practice. 

As a result, attitudes have shifted and leaders have vowed to work with women human rights “ambassadors” during training sessions on FGM/C. Sheikh Abdillahi from Go'Da-Weyn village said:

“Our committee agreed to not practice any type of FGM [on] our daughters.”

One of the ambassadors, a mother of young girls, shared:

“I have personally abandoned the FGM/C practice [...] I have also convinced other mothers to not cut their daughters.”

[1]https://www.unfpa.org/data/fgm/SO

[2]https://www.horndiplomat.com/2021/02/04/a-covid-19-phenomenon-cutters-now-move-from-door-to-door-in-somaliland/ and https://solidaarisuus.fi/en/cutters-move-from-door-to-door-in-somaliland/