Jun 28, 2007

Somaliland: Activists Denounce Female Mutilation

A growing number of Somaliland activists are taking the streets to get the government to ban female genital mutilation, a traditional practice which is still very common in the country.

A growing number of Somaliland activists are taking the streets to get the government to ban female genital mutilation, a traditional practice which is still very common in the country.

Below are extracts from an article published by Afrol:

Hargeisa, the peaceful capital of the self-proclaimed state of Somaliland, has become a new centre for the Somali Diaspora wanting to perform female genital mutilation (FGM) on their daughters. Most live in countries where FGM is strictly forbidden, including when this is done abroad.

A team from the Norwegian public broadcaster 'NRK' last week [17-23 June 2007] visited Hargeisa, where it easily found practitioners of the outlawed practice of FGM (also referred to as "female circumcision" or "female cutting"), which is widely condemned as strongly harmful to women and girls, also by many Muslim religious leaders.

The Somalilander women performing FGM did so privately or in open cooperation with public health facilities in Hargeisa, where most worked as midwifes. Among Somalis, female genital mutilation is very widespread and the UN estimates that 98 percent of women in Somaliland and Somalia have been subjected to the harmful practice.

In most countries where the large Somali Diaspora is represented, however, FGM is strictly outlawed. Research nevertheless shows that a majority of Somali parents living abroad ignore the laws of their host country and continue exposing their daughters to this culturally based practice.

And as southern Somalia remains an unsafe destination, peaceful Somaliland has emerged a safe haven for Somalis wanting to visit friends and family. Or wanting to stick to traditions.

The 'NRK' team met with ten FGM practitioners in Hargeisa saying they had performed the cut on at least 185 Somali girls living in Norway. The practitioners further confirmed that Norway-based parents were popular clients as they paid "well", typically euro 20 each girl. European summer holidays were seen as the top season for these women performing FGM.

Based on these data, it is estimated that thousands of young girls are brought to Hargeisa each year from Europe alone to undergo the mutilation. Somali women rights organisations all over Europe and North America have for years tried to address this practice, knowing that each summer holiday, hundreds of young girls are taken to Hargeisa for just this reason.

In Norway, this revelation caused a public outcry and fuelled the debate about how to better enforce national legislation outlawing FGM. Politicians have proposed anything from information campaigns targeting Somalis in Norway, to obliging medics to report cases they come over to the police and introducing obligatory health tests for girls returning from summer holidays in Somalia.

While Somali parents living abroad can be taken to court for child abuse after having taken their daughters to Somaliland to undergo FGM, the Hargeisa practitioners operate in full legality. Attempts to outlaw FGM in Somaliland have so far failed.

But there are an increasing number of Somalilander voices calling for government action against FGM. Poet and journalist Bashir Goth recently protested against the "physical torture and mutilation of women's God-given sexual organs," adding the "practice should be banned and Somaliland should join other pioneer African countries including neighbouring Djibouti in ratifying the Maputo Protocol that seeks to outlaw FGM."

Also among Somalilander health workers, there is an increased discussion about the harmful practice. Hargeisa midwife Safia Dualleh Farah, who guided the 'NRK' team, strongly objected the practices but said she understood her colleagues performing FGM. "They are cutting the girls on their spare time because they earn too little working in hospitals or health centres. They say they cannot afford to stop," she told 'NRK'.

A few women groups in Hargeisa have started to raise awareness on the harms and dangers of FGM, but little has been achieved so far. As Somaliland remains a non-recognised country, little international effort is put into fighting FGM here, contrary to for example neighbouring Ethiopia, where a majority of young mothers now reject the practice following intensive information campaigns.

The UN children agency UNICEF together with the Senegal-based women rights organisation Tostan until know have been able to arrange a few sensitising seminars in Somaliland, focusing on "human rights to ensure human dignity," according to Tostan Somaliland supervisor Suleiman Mahdi Sh Hassan.