“I don’t want girls to go through the pain we’ve gone through,” says Halima (50).
In #Somalia, 100 mothers have pledged not to subject daughters to female genital mutilation (FGM).
— UNFPA (@UNFPA) February 2, 2022
‘She felt the pain’
“My daughter underwent the Sunna type of FGM (removal of part or all of the clitoris), and she felt the pain I have been through,” Halima said. But because it was not the more severe ‘pharaonic’ procedure (stitching the opening closed), people insulted them, she said, saying her daughter was unclean.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is opposed to all types of FGM and is opposed to health care providers performing FGM.
“Throughout the training course, I had flashback memories of how the practice has badly impacted my life,” she said.
Three years ago, a young girl in the same camp died as a result of FGM, and Halima started galvanizing the community, to try and make sure the tragedy is never repeated.
Changing the future for Somali girls
The Ifrah Foundation, together with the Global Media Campaign to End FGM, distributed UNFPA-supplied radio transmitters to 100 households so residents could listen to awareness campaigns and information.
“It has been a long-standing dream of mine to work to save girls from the unnecessary pain and suffering I endured as a result of FGM,” said survivor Ifrah Ahmed, founder of the foundation that bears her name. “Halima is an example of how we can change the future for all Somali girls”, she added.
Halima’s advocacy has expanded beyond FGM. She encourages pregnant and lactating mothers to visit health centres and raises awareness over sexual and gender-based violence.
She also notes that community members used to stay silent about rape due to fear of stigmatization, but now they seek help.
According to UNFPA, because of her leadership, almost 100 mothers have pledged not to practice female genital mutilation, sparing about 200 girls in the settlement.
“I don’t want my other daughters and other young girls to go through the pain we have gone through,” Halima said.
The numbers across the world
According to WHO, more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, where FGM is practiced.
Only in Somalia, based on the 2020 Somali Health and Demographic Survey, 99 per cent of women aged 15 to 49 in Somalia, have been subjected to FGM, the majority between ages five and nine. The survey also reports that 72 per cent of women believe it is an Islamic requirement, though some religious leaders have said Islam actually condemns it.
In 2020, UNFPA provided 52,225 Somali women and girls protection, prevention or care services related to female genital mutilation. While there is no national legislation outlawing the practice, Puntland state passed a FGM Zero Tolerance Bill last year.
This year, WHO will launch a training manual on person-centered communication, a counselling approach that encourages health care providers to challenge their FGM-related attitudes, and build their communication skills to effectively provide FGM prevention counselling.