The campaign to eliminate Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Somalia seeks to educate people on the long-term physiological, sexual and psychological effects of a procedure that is performed on about 95 percent of females in the country.
MOGADISHU, SOMALIA (RECENT) (AU-UN IST) - While Somalia faces the challenge to rebuild and stabilise a nation under threat from Islamist insurgency after 20 years of conflict, another struggle is being fought by aid workers to end the ancient practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
Somalia is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman and the threat of FGM, activists say, often comes from other women who believe it is a religious right of passage.
"If I have a daughter my mother she said, "why don't you make FGM your daughter; aren't you Muslim?" saidRaabaco Sheikh Nur, chairperson of the Aaran Community Development Organisation.
"Then if you say mama, FGM is normal it is not related to religion even if you want to ask the sheikh then, you are not going to tell me that lie, that is the lie. We are Muslim; Muslim has to do the FGM," she added.
FGM is the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injury to female genital organs. In its most extreme form, the vaginal opening is sewn closed.
Beyond the obvious pain of the procedure, the long-term physiological, sexual and psychological effects are well documented. The practice, which often occurs without the use of anaesthesia, can even cause death as a result of shock, haemorrhage or septicaemia.
In Somalia, FGM prevalence is about 95 percent and is primarily performed on girls aged 4-11, according to the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF).
FGM, which is thousands of years old, is often seen as a manifestation of patriarchal control, but reports show a growing number of men and boys oppose the ritual. Aid worker Deqo Waqaf said it is often the elder women of the community who are promoting the tradition.
"It's the elderly women who are doing it, it's the grandmothers who are reinforcing it, it's not the mothers, it's not the husbands, it's not the female, it's not the male who's doing [saying] you know, 'I want the woman to be mutilated'," said Deqo Waqaf, Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation.
While it is an act pegged on social acceptance, activists say there is also economic motivation.
"If you talk to them and you say, "why are you doing this?" They say if you pay me I will stop doing it, it's my business; I feed for my family. A woman bring me [a young girl] and I am not going to say no because I am making money. So it's a financial issue also there. It has a lot of aspect to cover but education is the key," saidAbdi.
Many families from both Muslim and Christian communities also believe FGM is a religious requirement even though it is not mentioned in the Koran or Bible.
Organisations are working with religious leaders, teaching them that FGM is not part of Islam but a practice that pre-dates it. It also brings together women who have experienced FGM to talk to families.
"Women, if you ask why you use FGM they say, "my daughter, if I did not make FGM, the people they may say she's not Muslim also". If you ask the religion people they say it's not related to the Muslim; FGM and Muslim there is no relationship," said Raabaco Sheikh Nur.
Although many countries have banned the practice, it remains deeply entrenched. Campaigners against FGM say girls who refuse are often ostracised. Somalia's leadership says they support the campaign against the procedure. However, as it is carried out in private homes it is difficult to monitor and there is currently little protection for girls.
Aid organisations are working to achieve a long-term shift in cultural norms by raising awareness through education and community mobilisation in the hope of bringing up a generation of girls that do not feel bound by tradition to continue the painful and potentially life-threatening practice.