Somalia will introduce new legislation outlawing Female Genital Mutilation

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This article was originally published on Chayn.co.

In a recent article I reported the troubling case of fifty British schoolgirls suspected of being taken to Somalia by their mothers and grandmothers for purposes of female genital mutilation (FGM). In Somalia the prevalence of FGM is estimated by UNICEF to be 95–98% and the practice is deeply culturally ingrained. As a result, such a large group of young girls travelling to the country during the school holidays was bound to raise suspicions. We may never find out if these suspicions were well-founded. In the near future, however, young Somali girls may be able to travel to visit relatives in the country without fearing that they may be forced to undergo genital cutting during their stay.

Sahra Mohammed Ali Samatar, the Somalian Minister of Women’s Affairs announced at a press conference in Mogadishu that the country’s Ministry of Women Affairs and Human Rights plans to introduce new legislation putting an end to FGM in Somalia. Such news is extremely welcome, and it is hoped it will lend weight to the country’s 2012 constitution in which Article 15 (4) states that:

Female circumcision is a cruel and degrading customary practice, and is tantamount to torture. The circumcision of girls is prohibited.

Despite such strong language, no specific law was introduced by the Somali government either at the time or subsequently to counteract the practice. It is no small wonder, therefore, that the practice continues unabated to this day. At the time Fatima Jibrell, a women’s advocate, told IRIN of the importance of action coupled with the government’s well-meaning words:

The fact that the new provisional constitution outlaws the circumcision of girls is a welcome development, but this will require education, awareness-raising and strong legal provisions. Without this, the provision will be little more than ink on a piece of paper.

Gratifyingly, the recent announcement by Minister Samatar is, according to Equality Now’s Brendan Wynne, more “concrete”. This welcome move towards greater protection of women’s rights in Somalia follows President Obama’s speech during his recent visit to Kenya in which he called for an end to FGM in the continent among other improvements to women’s rights, resulting in thunderous applause.

Nigeria recently set a precedent, announcing anti-FGM legislation of its own. A policy paper produced earlier this year by the UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID) had the foresight to predict that due to strong African governance of late, the end of FGM was nigh. However, perhaps even DFID will be surprised at the pace of change. The continent, it seems, is undergoing somewhat of a transformation.

Nevertheless, before we let ourselves get carried away by these positive reports, it would be foolish to underestimate the struggle that lies ahead. Firstly, Somalia is still a politically unstable and chaotic state. As a result, the difficulty in enforcing the law under such circumstances cannot be understated. Secondly, culture is key. Given that FGM is currently so ingrained in the fabric of Somalian life it will be difficult to eradicate. It is likely many practitioners will simply go underground, enabling those parents and grandparents who are willing to take the risk to continue to have their daughters and grand-daughters ‘fixed’. The solution? As with so many things, education is key. The frequent resultant health complications of FGM must be widely publicised. Religious and community leaders, due to their positions of authority, must do what they can to debunk the myths surrounding the practice. Crucially, men, too, have a key part to play in the sorry tale of FGM in Somalia reaching its conclusion.

While it will be a journey fraught with difficulty, we can take heart that the Somalis are moving in the right direction. Without wanting to sound mawkish–here’s hoping that the outcome the women and girls of Somalia so desperately need happens sooner rather than later.


Originally published at chayn.co on August 6, 2015.

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