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    Posted December 3, 2013 by
    Mombasa, Kenya

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    FGM still rampant among the Somali community

    Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is very common in Somalia. More than
    90 percent of girls in Somalia and North Eastern Kenya are subjected to the most severe
    form, i.e. infibulation. Factors such as religion, tradition and sexuality are used to explain and justify the practice of genital mutilation. While awareness campaigns
    and other efforts towards its eradication encourage changes to the practice, these
    have come about only at a very slow pace. Although women are accountable for
    upholding the practice, men carry a great responsibility. In societies where socioeconomic security is provided for women primarily through the institution of
    marriage, the requirement that women must be virgins to be considered eligible for
    marriage contributes to a continuation of the practice of FGM

    Between 80 and 98 percent of all Somali women have been subjected to infibulation,
    i.e. partial or complete removal of all external sexual organs, and surgical closure of
    the vaginal orifice
    Some sources claim to have observed a transition from
    infibulation to sunna in recent years, however it is difficult to ascertain with any
    degree of certainty how extensively patterns might have changed. Sunna is common
    among the populat Somaliaion
    in the coastal areas. In these population groups, the
    procedure is performed on newborns (ibid).
    In Somalia, genital mutilation is not a rite of passage that marks the transition from
    child to adult. The practice is linked to tradition and notions about purity, virginity
    and control of unwanted sexuality.

    Girls are subjected to the procedure when they are between five and eight years old.
    A survey conducted in the Awdal district in North West Somalia (Somaliland) and
    the Mandera district in North East Kenya confirmed that genital mutilation is
    performed on girls between the age of 5 and 8 (World Bank & UNFPA 2004). The
    findings are supported by other surveys. According to local NGOs (ibid), all girls
    between the age of 6 and 8 have undergone infibulations prior to starting school in
    Puntland. According to COSPE (meeting 2007), girls in the Somali diaspora are
    much older when subjected to the procedure, possibly as late as in their twenties.

    There is very little information available on how widespread reinfibulation is among
    Somali women. Some sources claim that in general, women are reinfibulated after
    giving birth (US State Department 2001). Yet a study (Johansen 2002) conducted
    among Somali women in Norway showed that there was in fact no such firm basis to
    support the assumption that reinfibulation is common after giving birth or divorce.
    This view is also supported by other Somali sources (lecture by Barre March 2008).
    According to Johansen (2002), however, there are rumours that certain clans practice
    reinfibulation. It is furthermore claimed that reinfibulation is only carried out after
    giving birth for the first time, and that it normally entails a partial reinfibulation only.

    It is mainly traditional circumcisers, the so-called guddaay, who carry out the
    procedure. However, an increasing number of professional health workers perform
    genital mutilation (World Bank 2004). According to a World Bank survey (ibid),
    most members of the Professional Nursing Association in Mogadishu perform a
    more limited genital mutilation for a fee. They also oppose the activities of
    traditional circumcisers and the infibulation practice.
    More families have started to use health personnel to carry out the procedures,
    wanting to avoid complications that often arise after infibulations. The World Bank
    (WB 2004) argue that the "medicalisation" of the procedure started as far back as at
    the time of Somalia's independence, when a Lebanese doctor started carrying out the
    procedures at the Martini hospital in Mogadishu.

    Although the origins of genital mutilation are unclear, the population groups and
    communities practicing the custom are largely concurrent in their approach to the issue itself and in their justifications for continuing the practice. Justifications span
    from religious beliefs to ideas about purity, beauty and aesthetics.
    In a study by World Health Organisation (WHO), covering 1,744 women aged
    between 15 and 49 in North East and North West Somalia, 90 percent of the women
    responded that they preferred that the custom be preserved (World Bank & UNFPA
    2004). Another study carried out in the district of Awdal in North West Somalia
    (Somaliland) and among Somalians in the Mandera district of Kenya, showed that
    more than half10 of the respondents wanted their daughters to be circumcised (ibid).
    Furthermore, the study from the Awdal district showed that 36 percent of the
    respondents believed genital mutilation to have cultural and religious benefits. 42
    percent did not share this view. Twelve percent believed that the custom prevented
    pre-marital sex and 16 percent were of the opinion that the custom promoted beauty.

    Both studies highlight the fact that more than half of the rural and nomadic
    respondents believed that genital mutilation was a requirement in Islam. The
    percentage was lower among urban respondents.
    The figures show that although many women understand that genital mutilation is
    harmful, they still believe that the custom should be preserved. This illustrates the
    complexity of the problems related to FGM. There is massive pressure on mothers
    (and other female family members) in societies where religion, tradition, ideals of
    purity, fear of stigmatisation and absence of networks beyond the family or clan,
    plays such a pervasive role. Whereas pressure itself is administered primarily by
    women, there is no doubt that the overall attitude towards FGM is strongly
    influenced by the requirements and ideals held by men (and society at large) towards
    virginity. With marriage and family representing the main pillars of society, even
    fear of exclusion or the mere prospect of exclusion contributes to pressurising those
    Awareness of the problems associated with genital mutilation and of the need to
    oppose the tradition is higher in urban than in rural population

    Legislation against genital mutilation
    There is no national legislation that prohibits FGM in present day Somalia, however
    the administration in Puntland11 introduced legislation against genital mutilation in
    1999. Awareness campaigns against genital mutilation, initiated in the early 1980s,
    were ended as the regime collapsed in 1991. In the years following the civil war,
    international and local organisations, including the National Committee Against
    FGM and Save Somali Women and Children (SSWC), resumed activities in other
    parts of the country. However, the actual value of these projects – their scope,
    effectiveness, strategies and lessons learnt – might questionable at times (World
    Bank & UNPFA 2004).
    3.7.2 Social sanctions against uncircumcised women and/or parents?
    The local community learns who has been subjected to FGM through the postoperative ceremonial markings. Girls who are not infibulated might experience
    harassment and teasing, and might encounter difficulties in becoming married
    (meeting with COSPE 2007).

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