Cornered by US, Somalia ends genital mutilation

Imagine growing up as a young girl in a radically different world than our own. Imagine that at age 10 or younger, your female relatives hold you down as they mutilate you. Your screams are ignored as your own mother or grandmother cut off your genitalia with a razor. They then stitch together the vaginal opening, leaving only a small space for urine and menstrual blood to escape. This is not some Hunger Games-esque dystopia, this is Somalia.

In this different world, this traumatic event is not anomalous. In fact, genital mutilation has been inflicted on these women since the days of ancient Egypt. Other versions of the practice involve removing only the clitoris and/or labia, but the majority, 96 percent, of Somali women have suffered one of the more extreme versions of female circumcision. Generations of women in this culture have been ritually robbed of their genitalia in the name of tradition and cultural theory.

This widespread rite of ceremonial mutilation, which is practiced in 26 of 43 African countries, has endured in Somalia because it is believed to prepare a young girl for marriage. These circumcisions are performed in hopes of repressing female sexuality and girls who have not undergone female circumcision are often considered unfit for marriage and assumed by the general Somali population to be inclined toward adultery.

Attempts have been made to suppress female genital mutilation, starting with colonial administrators in the early twentieth century, whose efforts to stamp out this endemic cruelty were met with resistance by locals. The latest development in the campaign to end this custom has been a motion from the United States threatening to withhold aid from the country pending its banning of genital mutilation.

Article 15 of the Somali constitution now states that “Circumcision of girls is a cruel and degrading customary practice, and is tantamount to torture.”

Whether or not this will end this violent practice, however, remains to be seen.

Women’s advocate Fatima Jibrell told news website Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), “The fact that the new provisional constitution outlaws the circumcision of girls is a welcome development, but this will require education, awareness raising, and strong legal provisions.”

Jabrell continued, “Without these, the provisions will be little more than ink on a piece of paper.”

Indeed, some Somalis see the act as being no more than a token gesture.

“We have had (FGM/C) in our culture,” said Jirde, a Somali elder, to IRIN. “The writer of our constitution knows it, and they are pretending to hate it. We can’t abandon something that has helped our girls to stay pure.”

Jirde added, “Our men will not have girls to marry because you can’t marry (an) uncircumcised (woman) if you are a true Somali man. It is these people who give us money who say, ‘you must ban circumcision and then we give you money.’”

When asked his opinion on applying pressure to other countries to change their customs, Sophomore Tyler Koopman replied, “I think we should try to dissipate torture around the world, I just don’t think threatening to cut countries’ aid is the best way to go about stopping violence.”

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