Difficult battle against female genital mutilation in Somalia
The vast majority of Somali women have undergone genital mutilation, a dangerous practice that causes lifelong injuries. Sida supports the organisation Nafis' efforts to put an end to a strong tradition.
The small Magan Hospital is located in one of the poorer areas of the city of Hargeisa. Three times a week the organisation Nafis, who works against female genital mutilation, is open for counselling. They also devote three days a week to visiting families or women's groups.
In one of the small rooms we find Fadumo Jama Musa, one of the counsellors. She has worked as a midwife for two years and is now tasked with explaining, informing - and persuading.
"We receive up to ten people every day, who come here to ask questions and get advice. Some are very positive about what we say and they are important because they spread the message", says Fadumo. In the waiting room a television is showing a film about female genital mutilation. Women who have problems as a result of genital mutilation can receive care at the hospital or, if their problems are very serious, be referred to other hospitals for surgery. If they cannot pay Nafis will bear the cost, why it is not surprising that the work of Nafis is well-known in this area. What might be more surprising, however, is that many of the people meeting with Fadumo and her colleagues are young men.
"Some are shy and ask if they could talk to a man instead, but in the end they usually talk to us", Fadumo Jama Musa explains.
What questions would these men have? Well, most of them are unmarried and have been told by married friends about the pain that women experience due to female genital mutilation, and about problems with their sex lives.
"I have no doubt that the young generation, especially men, can help to bring an end to this tradition. The strongest defendants of female genital mutilation are often older women with little education. This is despite the fact – or perhaps because of the fact – that they have been exposed to it themselves", says Anab Farah Ahmed, a midwife who also runs the hospital.
Genital mutilation - a question of poverty
One of the people visiting the hospital on this particular day is Milgo Abdullahi. She is 40 years old, has three sons and she tells us how much she has suffered from the mutilation she underwent.
"Yes, I remember, I was probably eight or nine years old and it hurt so much! Afterwards I had to lie down for a whole month", she says.
Despite her experience Milgo Abdullahi would not hesitate to mutilate her own daughters - if she had any. It is, she explains, part of her tradition. It turns out that the reason she came here today is to convince the counselors to stop propagating against female genital mutilation. Milgo Abdullahi also seems to believe that genital mutilation reduces the risk of rape, perhaps because it will make women less sexually active. Anab Farah Ahmed, who supports the counselors in their daily work and who has delivered children in Hargeisa for decades, later says:
"The families who let their daughters undergo genital mutilation are often those that have the least contact with health services. When complications set in after the mutilation they often rely on wise women and home remedies, often with disastrous consequences."
She is echoed by Abdirsak Mohamed Abdi, who is the coordinator of Nafis.
"We have to understand that people without access to clean water and education have difficulties seeing genital mutilation as the most important issue. This is why we must connect our activities to health, livelihood and other things that people perceive as important", he says.
Create public opinion through religious leaders
Somalia is a complex society where religion is extremely strongly rooted, and the traditional clans excercise great power. If you want to be succesful you can't be confrontational but must use dialogue and conversation. It is also important to get politicians and other decision-makers, particularly religious and traditional leaders, onboard when working against female genital mutilation.
"If we are to achieve something, we have to integrate genital mutilation with other issues. Our goal is zero tolerance, but we must take one step at a time. People listen more to religious leaders than to anyone else so that is why we must have them onboard", Abdirsak Mohamed Abdi says.
Nafis is working hard to bring about a law against female genital mutilation, which is very difficult.
"We have strong support from the government, and the Ministry of Religious Affairs helps us in our dialogue with religious leaders. Without them it wouldn't work. But more women in government would be to our advantage", Abdirsak Mohamed Abdi says.