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Trócaire and fellow Irish charity Ifrah Foundation took part in a high level conference on FGM in Mogadishu, on 27 July, 2016. Catherine M Waking’a, Trócaire’s East Africa Communications Officer report.
High level conference on female genital mutiliation in Mogadishu, July 2016
Every girl wants to live in a safe environment where her rights are upheld.
Somali girls can speak little of this desire being met.
Between the ages of 4-11 up to 95 percent of them will undergo circumcision otherwise referred to as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
It is seen as a rite of passage and a cultural obligation. It is however a violation of their rights as young women.
It is a form of Gender Based Violence (GBV). Women and girls suffer long-term physical, psychological and health-related complications because of this harmful practice. It violates their sexual and reproductive health rights as well as their right to privacy and dignity.
Once circumcised, the girls are considered adults and married off. In Somali society, the practice of FGM is an honoured tradition. Those who oppose it do so against the tide of public opinion.
FGM has been unconstitutional in Somalia since 2012, but no bill has been passed to ban it out rightly, and open discussion has remained largely taboo until recently. Notable support for bringing an end to FGM has been that of the country’s minister of religious affairs Abdulkahdir Sheikh Ali Baghdad, who has said it is a cultural practice that has no place in modern societies.
Trócaire and fellow Irish charity Ifrah Foundation took part in a high level conference on FGM in Mogadishu, on 27 July, 2016. The conference was organised under the Orchid Project.
The Ifrah Foundation was set up by Ifrah Ahmed, one of the world’s top international FGM eradication advocates and activists and Somalia’s advisor on gender issues in the Prime Minister’s office. Ifrah came to Ireland as an asylum seeker at the age of 17 and is now a citizen. Ifrah herself underwent FGM as a young girl and is determined that others in Somalia will not experience what she did.
One of the objectives of the conference was to alter the national perception and support a shift in cultural norms in order to bring up a generation that does not feel bound to conform to the practice and also gain the Somali prime minister’s public commitment and support for passing legislation banning the practice of FGM in the country.
The Orchid Project envisages a world free from FGM and working with like-minded organisations to achieve this goal.
There is no specific law against female circumcision in Somalia and the practice remains widespread in both rural and urban areas. Women affected by FGM in this nation continue to suffer in silence.
Besides shaping the development of a bill that will ban FGM in Somalia the conference also built on existing momentum for this effort by engaging with national and international experts.
These undertakings will go a long way towards changing attitudes and supporting those who oppose this practice.
Emphatically, the proposed bill will deter supporters of this practice by threatening legal sanctions but perhaps most importantly of all by reinforcing women’s right to the integrity of their bodies which is an inalienable human right. It will consequently promote and support social change.
Acknowledgement by the Somali federal government that this so called ‘rite of passage’ should be banned is essential. Cessation may take some time but the greatest motivation is that when it does end, Somali women and girls will be able to lead normal lives.
In the words of United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, there is one universal truth, applicable to all countries, cultures and communities: violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, and never tolerable. During the high level symposium, the Somali government pledged and reaffirmed its commitment to eradicate female genital mutilation in the country.
It is time for community members to take action and support their government: a life free of violence is a basic human right, one that every girl and woman deserves.
It is of utmost necessity that we all should not only respect women’s sexual and reproductive health rights but provide them with equal access to education, health care and representation in political processes which will in turn benefit societies and humanity at large.