Female Genital Mutilation in Somalia Reflects Deep-Rooted Gender Inequality Within Society
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Female Genital Mutilation in Somalia Reflects Deep-Rooted Gender Inequality

Background: Female Genital Mutilation in Somalia

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Somalia reflects a deep-rooted gender inequality. Somalia has a 99% prevalence rate among women aged 15-49 years. The majority of girls are subject to FGM between five and nine years old. Thus, Somalia has the highest rate of FGM in the world. These were the latest statistics from the Somali Health and Demographic Survey 2022.

There is an international consensus that FGM is a violation of human rights. The prevalence of FGM in Somalia represents one of the most extreme forms of discrimination against girls and women. Consequently, this traditional practice has a catastrophic impact on women’s health. FGM results in high health care costs for countries where it is praticed. Additionally, women and girls subjected to this practice are vulnerable to mental health problems, reduced opportunities for growth, early marriages and early school dropouts.

What is Female Genital Mutilation?

FGM involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or another injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

Additionally, FGM can be divided into four subcategories. The most severe form is the total removal of the clitoris, the labia minora and the intersection of the labia majora. Additionally, the sides of the labia majora are typically sewn together, leaving only a small hole for urine and menstrual blood to pass through.

Moreover, Somalia is not the only country carrying out this harmful cultural tradition. Hence, the map below illustrates where FGM occurs worldwide based on four different severity categories. These categories are based on FGM media reporting, research and surveys conducted in different countries.

Map illustrates the prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation worldwide as a result of deep-rooted gender inequality.
Caption: The map illustrates the prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation worldwide due to deep-rooted gender inequality. Source from FAWCO.

FGM Has No Health Benefits & Poses Many Serious Risks

FGM poses many short and long-term harmful complications for those subjected to the practice. Moreover, FGM does not have any health benefits for girls or women. Some short-term complications include bleeding, pain, fever, infection and urinary problems. However, some of the long term-complications include:

  • chronic pain,
  • urinary problems,
  • extreme bleeding,
  • menstrual problems,
  • sexual problems,
  • infections,
  • increased risk of complications in childbirth,
  • permanent disability,
  • psychological problems,
  • and possible death.
Some use a razor blade in order to perform the Female Genital Mutilation procedure.
Caption: Some use a razor blade to perform the Female Genital Mutilation procedure. Image obtained from NPR.

Eradicating This Harmful Cultural Tradition Through Self-Empowerment

The International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation is marked every year on the 6th of February. The UN sexual and reproductive health agency (UNFPA) continues to lead the UN in eradicating FGM worldwide.

The Ministry for Women and Human Rights Development, the UNFPA and Ifrah Foundation’s “Dear Daughter Campaignhave taken a radically different approach to end FGM in Somalia. Thus, this campaign aims to change the FGM narrative in Somalia through education and dialogue. Furthermore, Dear Daughter targets rural and urban individuals and communities. Therefore, the principle of self-empowerment is central to their unique approach.

The campaign aims to encourage mothers to pledge not to cut their daughters. Accordingly, through letter-writing, Somali mothers pledge to protect them and support their right to govern their own bodies. When other families witness these pledges, it inspires them to follow in the same footsteps.

“Dear Daughter” engages in advocacy, media and grassroots campaigning on a national level in Somalia. The campaign empowers women to promise their daughters a future free from FGM in Somalia.

Caption: Dear Daughter Campaign aims to eradicate Female Genital Mutilation in Somalia and improve gender inequality.

Real-life Insights Into the Life of Halima

Halima, aged 50, is a mother of five daughters and five sons, living in an internally displaced camp on the outskirts of Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. Hamlia works as a camp gatekeeper and is an influential community member. Therefore, she is an ideal person of interest for the Dear Daughter campaign to help in advocating against the dangers of FGM. Furthermore, Halima has not disclosed her real name while being interviewed for safety reasons.

FGM put her life and millions of other women in Somalia’s lives at severe risk. When Halima reached adolescence, passing menstrual blood was difficult, and as a newlywed, sex with her husband was a painful experience. Additionally, when Halima became pregnant, childbirth was excruciatingly painful, with her labour lasting for several days.

“The procedure was painful, with no anesthesia. I bled for days. I was in bed for more than three months and urinating was a problem”

Hamila (victim of FGM).

Halima subjected her first daughter to be cut despite her suffering, just like her mother had done.

FGM Reflects A Deeply Rooted Gender Inequality

Female Genital Mutilation represents a need for men to have sexual control over girls and women. FGM occurs across different religions, ethnicities, races and social classes. 

Evidently, FGM represents a manifestation of deeply entrenched gender inequality within society. Consequently, girls and women who decide not to follow the social norm are likely to face condemnation from friends, family and potential husbands. Men often ridicule and reject girls and women who have not undergone the procedure.

Many girls and women continue to be subject to FGM despite its harmful impacts. Consequently, many perceive the social benefits of FGM outweigh the disadvantages. It is difficult for families to abandon the practice without support from the wider community.

Changing the Future of FGM for Women in Somalia and Worldwide

According to the WHO, an estimated 200 million girls and women living today have been subjected to FGM across 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Furthermore, UNICEF stated that an additional 68 million are at risk of being subjected to FGM by 2030.

Somalia has widespread conflict, political instability and resource scarcity. In addition to this, Somalia has a fragile government and is currently suffering from one of the most severe droughts the country has witnessed in 40 years.

Ultimately, despite the obstacles, we must take action to help women and eradicate FGM in Somalia and worldwide. This requires a holistic and multi-sectoral collaboration in addressing structural drivers of FGM and the social norms surrounding its practice.

FGM is a violation of girl’s and women’s fundamental human rights.

Laura Shorten
Laura Shorten is an Irish human rights consultant and researcher based in the Netherlands. Laura qualified with an International Bachelor of Social Sciences degree from University College Dublin. She majored in politics, international relations and social policy. Laura graduated from Technological University Dublin with a Postgraduate Diploma in Law. In 2021, she graduated with an Advanced LL.M in International Children’s Rights at Leiden University. Laura specializes in international law, children’s human rights, political science, international relations, middle eastern studies, refugee/migration law, gender studies, strategic litigation and global diplomacy. Laura has published various articles pertaining to international law and human rights violations occuring worldwide. Laura defended her Advanced Master’s Thesis entitled “An Analysis of the Convention on the Rights of the Child’s Legal Framework in Protecting Children’s Right to Health and Right to Life in the Face of Climate Change”. This thesis is published on the Leiden University website under the Advanced Master of Law Theses for children's rights. Laura has previously worked for UNICEF Ireland, campaigning for children worldwide who are facing discrimination and living in war zones. https://www.linkedin.com/in/laura-shorten/

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