The Somalian government should be ashamed of condoning the widespread occurrence of female genital mutilation. According to UNICEF, 98 percent of women from the ages 15 to 49 have undergone FGM in Somalia from 2005 to 2014.
As defined by the World Health Organization, FGM is a procedure that removes or injures female genitalia for a non-medical purpose. This procedure has absolutely no health benefits for women. It only has negative effects. Short-term effects include severe pain, hemorrhage, infection, urination problems, and impaired wound healing. Additionally, long-term effects of this procedure include: chronic reproductive tract infections, menstrual problems, keloids, and obstetric complications. Many girls bleed to death as a result of this practice, and others suffer lifelong consequences.
Despite this, FGM continues to have a large social presence. This practice is considered a tradition and a social norm. It is a rite of passage for women and necessary in receiving a marriage proposal. Uncircumcised women are not considered to be good enough for marriage. Many of these women are ostracized from society. Therefore, out of fear, most women conform to FGM. This issue stems from a larger issue of a patriarchal society where women are only valued for their ability to produce children and do free labor.
A study done involving 2,947 subjects showed that an average of four out of five women in Somalia believe that circumcision should continue. Within this study, about 19.4 percent of the women were illiterate, and only 20.3 percent of women had received a primary education. The lack of education about this topic prolongs its practice. To make this situation any worse, the men of the household often force young girls to undergo these procedures. As stated by a father, “[My daughter] has no choice. I decide. Her viewpoint is not important.”
Minister of Health Dr. Fawziya Abikar Nor, you have a responsibility towards your fellow sisters in Somalia to stop FGM. This tradition is hurting these women physically and psychologically for absolutely no health benefit. Instead, you need to empower the women of your country and provide education to help them advance. Recently, you have been appointed to the WHO Eastern Mediterranean office, which means you can implement widespread change to countries most affected by this practice. Countries that practice FGM have the highest rates of child mortality ratios. In addition, FGM detracts the progress made in accomplishing SDG #5, which is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
Not only is this practice extremely traumatic for the young girls that undergo it, but untrained people are also usually conducting these circumcisions with knives, razors, or even glass. Many girls bleed out and die as a direct result of FGM. By turning a blind eye to these types of practices, you are not supporting health and condoning discrimination against women.
To uproot this practice, you need to call upon the community and media to raise awareness and educate. By involving community members, you can train local health workers to educate members of the community through schools, religious organizations, and social clubs. Additionally, religious leaders and women of high status can help change community perceptions. With increased media coverage, members of this community can learn that all countries do not normally practice this. Increasing education can teach young women about the threats of this practice to their health. Using this method, you can help redefine FGM in society from a necessary evil to simply evil.
In addition, a young girl’s coming of age should be celebrated through alternative means. For example, an alternative ritual in Kenya educated and empowered women and girls to defend their choice not to be cut. These girls received presents and were able to celebrate their coming of age with their parents. By instituting an alternative ritual, you can applaud women for taking charge of their bodies and their lives.
Lastly, people who are involved in conducting FGM should be held accountable for their actions. Currently, FGM is prohibited under the Somali Constitution; however, there is not a national law that condemns the practice of FGM. As a result, there are no consequences in Somalia for conducting FGM. Without a national consequence against FGM, this practice will continue because people will not change this behavior, despite the prohibition. These consequences must be implemented with the help of community members; otherwise, the FGM practices will simply be done underground in even worse conditions.
The Ministry of Health needs to use its resources to eliminate FGM in Somalia and empower women. FGM is not acceptable. This is a human rights violation and formalized discrimination. The Ministry of Health needs to stand up for womankind.
Pankti P. Acharya is a medical student.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com