- Posted December 3, 2013 by
FGM still rampant among the Somali community
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
INCIDENCE RATE AND TYPES OF MUTILATION
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).
3.2 JUSTIFYING GENITAL MUTILATION IN SOMALIA
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.
WHEN IS GENITAL MUTILATION PERFORMED?
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.
WHO PERFORMS GENITAL MUTILATION?
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.
ATTITUDES TOWARDS GENITAL MUTILATION
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).