On a recent trip I visited Somaliland. It’s defined as the ‘self-declared state’ and autonomous region of Somalia and to many people it’s not a country but just a “made up” location, where the capital city, Hargeisa, is home to over 3.5 million people. I travelled throughout Somaliland from the capital to the nearby towns and coastlines and it was very different to when I first visited back in 2010, seven years ago. I was a lot younger then, and very oblivious to my surroundings and the stigmas associated with certain aspects of the culture, particularly with the concept of unmutilated genitals.
As a nineteen-year-old girl who has grown up in the West, I had a completely different perspective to a girl who has grown up in her home-country; the environment you are raised in obviously plays a big part in defining who you are. Somali diaspora are often judged for being ‘too Western’ or just simply lost and out of touch with their culture. We’re often caught between fully identifying as Western or Somali, seen as too foreign for Somaliland and too foreign for the UK which can be exhausting at times.
FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) is something that is practiced all over the world. It’s something that I am well aware of and in no way shape or form agree with. Many people have actively campaigned against it in and around Somalia/ Somaliland and across the world. It’s still heavily practiced in villages and even inner cities. The current statistic for FGM in Somalia is ‘95% of girls between the ages of 4 and 11 undergo FGM’ according to UNICEF, a shocking number that we must work in reducing and eventually eliminating entirely.
Children as young as five are being cut, with many people using religion as a scapegoat, despite it not being stated anywhere in the Quran. It all comes down to culture and the toxic tradition that has been passed down from generations. Many mothers believe because they experienced it, it’s only right that their girls should too. It’s a mentality where because the family down the road are getting all their girls cut, you feel pressured into doing it as well and there’s a lot of judgment and shame bought to a family if they don’t follow through with the tradition.
When I was living at my aunt’s house in Hargeisa the two maids who were both roughly around my age confronted me one day. They said, “Safiya have you been cut? ” I knew exactly what they were asking me and replied “no”. They were so shocked by my response that they froze. There was an awkward silence so I asked “why?” Their response resonated within me. “How will any man be with you? Every girl must be ‘cut’ before marriage”. I was shocked with what they just said but in order to avoid conflict and knowing I wouldn’t change their mind, I stayed quiet and didn’t share my opinion on the topic.
FGM has serious precautionary consequences, some including recurring urine infections, excessive bleeding and even in some cases death as a result of shock. Some of the more long-term affects of this procedure include; psychological damage from trauma (PTSD), HIV from using unsterile instruments, menstruation problems and even pre-natal issues.
The conflation of culture and religion can be very dangerous, and FGM is a perfect example of why. I hope that one day it’s eradicated forever and women all over the world can make decisions for themselves and be free to choose their own paths. The UN has committed to end FGM by 2030 and it’s our responsibility to help make that possible.
Check out Nimco Ali who is an active campaigner against FGM. She co-founded the Non-Profit Organisation, ‘Daughters of Eve’ which acts as a platform for girls who have gone through FGM to share their experiences and get help. The future isn’t all-bleak! There is still hope and lot of work needs to be done. I believe that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.
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