Today is the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). This day has been highlighted by the United Nations in order to bring awareness to the dangers of FGM and subsequently lead to its eradication.
It is said that Somalia has the highest rate of prevalence of FGM in the world. This means that the majority of Somali women that you know have undergone the harmful practice. The fact that the number of girls that have been subjected to FGM in Somalia is the highest in the entire world means that we have clear social issues that need to be addressed. We need to be honest with ourselves and the reasons behind the practice.
In 2018, Somalia’s attorney general announced the country’s first criminal prosecution for the practice of FGM, after 10-year-old Deeqa Dahir Nuur bled to death in Dhusamareeb whilst undergoing FGM. Several weeks later, two sisters, Aasiyo and Khadijo Farah Abdi Warsame aged 10 and 11 from Puntland died the same way. Many similar cases go unreported by families and communities, due to the fear that the harmful practice will be halted. Yes, you read that right. In certain communities, cases of death due to FGM will be hidden because they don’t want to eliminate the practice due to its perceived benefits.
If you ask any Somali about the real reasons FGM is practised in the country, you’ll be met with an awkward silence. Some might state falsified religious reasons, and others might state cultural beliefs, but at the end of the day, the real reason why FGM is performed in Somalia is that Somalis believe that it is the only way to control the sexual desires of their women. FGM is an act of violence against the bodies of little girls, with the belief that this is the only way to preserve a family’s dignity.
The whole practice is deeply rooted in patriarchy and the power to control women. The uncomfortable truth is that girls are sexualized from a very early age and that their virginity is something to “safeguard” and only to be enjoyed by their future husbands.
Somalia is a country that doesn’t have any sexual offence laws, yet FGM, rape and other acts of Gender Based Violence (GBV) are highly prevalent. The inability to address and counter acts of violence against girls and women tells us that their well-being is not a real priority. Somalia is a country that does not know how to safeguard its girls, yet claims to mutilate them for their protection.
The only way we will see a complete eradication of FGM in Somalia, is to be truthful about the reasons why it’s done in order to properly address the beliefs behind the harmful practice. Until that day, FGM will remain the reason for trauma and death amongst generations of Somali women, no matter how many days out of the year we choose to address it.