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Almost all Somaliland women have undergone female genital mutilation

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In a breakthrough for the campaign against female genital mutilation, the three candidates in Somaliland’s presidential election — all of them men — have said they will seek to ban the practice.

On Monday, the self-declared state in east Africa will elect a new president — and all the candidates have pledged to outlaw the barbaric practice following a campaign backed by the Standard.

About 98 per cent of women in the former British colony, which declared independence from Somalia in 1991, have undergone FGM.

London campaigner Nimco Ali travelled to Somaliland to lobby the three main political parties on the issue. They all met her and promised to bring in legislation to end the procedure.

Frontrunner Musa Bihi Abdi writes today in this newspaper that ending FGM in Somaliland will “complete the circle of a campaign that the Evening Standard has done so much to highlight over the last five years; the campaign to end the practice of FGM or female genital mutilation”.

Ms Ali said: “I can’t explain how beautiful it is or how overwhelmed I am that these things are materialising.

“When I first started campaigning there was a lot of shame, stigma and fear, but now there is hope, conviction and pride.

I am so honoured they met me and what a level of respect I have for each and every one of them.”

Ms Ali met Faisal Ali Warabe of the UCID party, a representative for Abdirahman Mohamed Abdullahi of the Waddani party, and Mr Abdi of the Kulmiye party.

She offered to work for free for 100 days as a gender adviser to whoever becomes president. She was so shocked by the men’s positive responses that she “high-fived them in delight”.

Musa Bihi Abdi

Presidential Candidate of Kulmlye Party

In the next few days, I hope and believe that I will become the fifth president of the Republic of Somaliland. If I do, I will lead an administration that will complete the circle of a campaign that the Evening Standard has done so much to highlight over the last five years; the campaign to end the practice of FGM.

Despite amazing successes against the odds, Somaliland continues to have among the highest rates of girls undergoing FGM. But the country is on the cusp of genuine and profound change that could end this.

Why? Firstly there is a broad social movement on this issue of activists, health workers, educationalists and Islamic scholars who are educating rural and urban communities about FGM and advocating for its end. It’s having a real impact. Women who have been “cut” are now saying they will not do it to the next generation.

This is remarkable, given how much of a taboo this was until recently.

Nimco Ali, who was born in Somaliland, was instrumental in getting the law on FGM changed in the UK. She has worked with all three political parties in Somaliland. But this is a campaign with roots here, which is why I believe it can succeed.

The remarkable Edna Adan, an African health pioneer and former foreign minister of Somaliland, has worked on this issue for over 40 years. Now many midwife students are not only being taught about the health complications of FGM but how to spread the word about ending it.

In August, 180 of our religious leaders took part in a conference exploring the medical details of FGM and its grave risks for girls.

Ending FGM in Somaliland will also complete the circle in another way. Having been outlawed in the UK, it will make it harder for anyone from the diaspora to come to Somaliland to have it carried out here.

What is needed now is the political leadership to bring focus and clarity to this campaign led by Somaliland’s hundreds of activists and campaigners.

If I am elected president, I will do exactly that. FGM is about gender equality. For such a young nation like Somaliland to be so committed to ending it also shows it is committed to genuine democracy and is a rare example in such a troubled region.
The presidential election is seen as one of the few genuinely positive events in the region at the moment.

Nearly 800,000 voters have been registered for the first election in Africa to use iris-recognition software to prevent electoral fraud.

Ms Ali said: “The candidates were incredibly busy travelling from one city to another campaigning. For them to make time and speak so patiently and openly about something so deeply-rooted and stigmatised was amazing.
“We are meant to be ashamed of this thing, but by talking about it it showed how progressive they are.

“They were all super-informed about FGM but were waiting for someone to give them the legitimacy to talk about it.” She admitted that speaking to the men about the issue was daunting, but added: “Ending FGM through legislation is the key thing for a place where prevalence levels are so high.

“It is fundamental to the success of Somaliland. It cannot be successful if the women are repressed.”

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Somali News

Switzerland to host Somali unity talks

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Switzerland is ready to host talks between the Federal Government of Somalia and the breakaway Somaliland, official said.

Somaliland Foreign minister Sa’aad Ali Shire told the media in Hargeisa, the capital of the breakaway state on Saturday, that the talks would be held soon, without giving specific dates.

“The talks between the two sides will restart in Switzerland soon,” he said.

However, Dr Shire stated that a preliminary meeting between presidents Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo of Somalia and Somaliland Muse Bihi Abdi of Somalland, would be held in neighbouring Djibouti.

“The two sides will set the agenda of the talks in Switzerland during the preliminary discussions in Djibouti,” said Dr Shire.

A London conference on Somalia in May 2013 welcomed the dialogue between the Federal Government and Somaliland in Ankara, Turkey in the preceding month, to clarify their future relationship.

Conference participants encouraged further talks between the two sides.

While Mogadishu insists on the unity of Somalia as paramount, the leaders of the self-declared Republic of Somaliland want to secure secession it declared in May 1991.

Somaliland is the authority that governs the territory formerly known as British Somaliland Protectorate, which joined with the former Italian-ruled Somalia, to form the Republic of Somalia on July 1, 1960.

Although Somaliland unilaterally declared independence from the rest of Somalia, the region remains unrecognised by the international community.

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Somaliland

Somaliland Fatwa Forbids FGM

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VOA — Authorities in the self-declared republic of Somaliland have issued a religious fatwa banning the practice of female genital mutilation and vowed to punish violators.

The fatwa by the Ministry of Religious Affairs allows FGM victims to receive compensation. It does not say whether the compensation will be paid the government or by violators of the ban.

“It’s forbidden to perform any circumcision that is contrary to the religion which involves cutting and sewing up, like the pharaoh circumcision, the ministry’s fatwa reads. “Any girl who suffers from pharaoh circumcision will be eligible for compensation depending the extent of the wound and the violation caused. Any one proven to be performing the practice will receive punishment depending on the extent of the violation.”

The fatwa – issued Tuesday, coinciding with the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation – did not elaborate on the type or severity of punishment.

FGM involves removing part or all of the clitoris and labia for non-medical reasons, usually as a rite of passage. On its website, the World Health Organization (WHO) says cutting – often performed on girls 15 and younger – can result in bleeding, infection, problems with urination and complications with childbearing.

Somalia is among the countries in which FGM is most prevalent. The international organization reports that an estimated 98 percent of Somali females ages 15 to 49 have undergone the procedure.

The fatwa comes less than a month after Somaliland’s parliament for the first time approved a bill criminalizing rape and requiring prison terms for those who are convicted.
Praise for fatwa

Religious affairs minister Sheikh Khalil Abdullahi Ahmed hailed the fatwa, which effectively criminalizes FGM. He said the practice led Somali women and girls to suffer “during marriage, during childbirth and at young age” as it interferes with urination and menstruation.

Ahmed said society has “ignored” the problem for a long time.

“It was a problem that was ignored – whether they are religious scholars as well as the society. Its victim was a young child who did not have the power to protect itself. Today we stood up for our girls. This cruel act of circumcision is crime from today.”

Somaliland’s minister of social affairs and labor, Hinda Jama, welcomed the fatwa.

“Today we reached the pinnacle. We thank the religious scholars. I say, let us implement it and let us legislate a bill,” she said. “We will be watchful for anyone who performs cutting of a young girl. We will set up neighborhood watches to implement it.”

Prominent women’s rights activist Maryan Qasim, a former Somali minister of health, education and social services, also hailed the fatwa.

“A good step forward towards eradicating this harmful cultural practice that has harmed generations of Somali women,” she said in a Twitter post. “Time for FGM to end.”

Action plan and legislation anticipated

Ifrah Ahmed – founder of the Mogadishu-based Ifrah Foundation, which combats FGM – predicted that Somalia’s government would publish a national action plan this spring to fight the practice.

A bill forbidding FGM is very close to completion and will come before the Somali parliament soon, and this will help towards stopping this practice,” she told VOA Somali.

Ahmed said the Ifrah Foundation held a national conference in December and has conducted awareness training to over 6,000 youth members.

“I hope [in] the next 10 years Somalia will eradicate FGM; not to reduce it, but stop the practice as a whole,” she said.

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Humanitarian Watch

Nomadic communities suffer most as drought stalks Somaliland

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By Corrie Butler, IFRC — Driving through the rural landscapes of Somaliland, the views are breathtaking – towering blue mountains cutting the glaring sky over dry, thorn-bushed desert. Small dome-like temporary houses, known as ‘aqals’, dot the arid terrain.

These belong to nomads who have survived in these harsh conditions for generations, but for the first time, they are facing an uncertain future.

Years of consecutive drought have spiralled Somaliland’s nomadic communities into a devastating food crisis. Their ability to pack up and move livestock to better grazing pastures would normally give them a major advantage over other farmers. But the unprecedented drought has caused most – if not all – of their camels, sheep and goats to die and, with them, their livelihoods.

The Somali Red Crescent Society, in partnership with the IFRC, is present throughout Somaliland and Puntland, helping communities to respond to the growing challenges that vulnerable groups, including nomadic communities, face.

Dorothy Francis, Operations Manager of IFRC’s Somalia Complex Emergency Appeal, explained: “The nomads are the ones that are suffering the most because their livelihoods have always been based on livestock and that’s based on access to water.

“Because the crisis has deepened, there hasn’t been the rain we expected, so we see coping strategies becoming more negative. They are selling everything. They are leaving home to go further and further away to work so families are being broken up.”

Signs of malnutrition

Hinda Adan, a nomad and mother of four, visited a Red Crescent mobile health clinic in Lamadhadher village, south of Burao, Somaliland, to have her children screened to determine signs of malnutrition. Before the drought, her and her husband were successful livestock herders, owning 120 sheep, goats and camels. They had everything they needed. But the drought has killed almost all their livestock – only ten goats remain.

“Our life depends now on these ten goats,” said Hinda. “We have one to two meals a day. We prioritize our children – to feed them first.”

However, Hinda still feels luckier than others, including her neighbours: “The family had to split up three of their children among relatives. It affected their entire home. It is affecting our entire community,” she says.

Bringing humanitarian assistance to nomadic communities is one of the biggest challenges the Red Crescent faces, as their regular movement means it is often difficult to reach them reliably.

“Often, we arrive in a community to find that [the nomads] have gone to the next area,” explained Hussein Mohamed Osman, Berbera branch secretary for the Red Crescent in the Sahil region. “It also proves to be very costly to travel long distances to reach them.”

One of Somali Red Crescent’s flagship services is its mobile clinics, which are able to travel off-road to remote villages to provide health care services, particularly to nomadic communities who need it most. Built to adapt to the needs on the ground, the mobile clinics can spend half a day or multiple days in one village.

As drought conditions have worsened, the Red Crescent has increased the number of skilled health care workers in each team to prioritize the rising cases of malnutrition among children and expectant mothers.

Understanding local needs

IFRC is supporting the Somali Red Crescent in supplementing their urgent needs over the next three months, including emergency cash for food and other items. All humanitarian assistance is carefully considered to meet the teams’ needs and allow them to remain mobile: jerry cans and aqua tabs to ensure water is clear, and shelter products to keep them warm in the cool desert evenings, including blankets, sleeping mats and tarpaulins.

Although IFRC and the Red Crescent are helping to ensure short-term emergency needs are being met, efforts to implement longer-term interventions have started, which helps communities become more resilient to future emergencies. This includes rehabilitating 95 berkeds – or small dams – in the densely populated areas that have no access to water; rehabilitating wells and other water points; and, where some rain has come, providing villagers with the means to plough their farmland.

“What we are trying to do is cover an entire community with everything so we’ll have a cleaner, safer, healthier community – providing them with food, providing them with water, providing them with shelter,” explained Dorothy.

“It is a huge task but IFRC is working with a very strong Red Crescent society. We are managing to reach the most vulnerable people. We are doing the best we can.”

Fatima Mohamed Yusuf, a nomad in Togdheer region, is one of the community members who received much-needed health care in a Somali Red Crescent mobile clinic close to her temporary settlement. The drought came at a devastating cost to her and her family, who lost 270 sheep and goats.

“If there is no rain, I worry for my remaining livestock and I worry for myself and family. Allah only knows when the rains will come,” said Fatima.

Vital partnerships to tackle drought

IFRC is working closely with the Somali Red Crescent and global partners to continue supporting the needs of the most vulnerable people, but the fight to prevent famine is not over. Somaliland is currently categorized as a stage four emergency (crisis) and could easily descend into famine. It was only six years ago that Somalia experienced a famine that killed a quarter of a million people. IFRC will help to ensure Somalia never has to experience famine again.

Thanks to the generous support of the global community through the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, seven million Swiss francs has been donated to the IFRC Emergency Food Crisis Appeal in Somalia, which will help to bring life-saving support to 353,000 people in some of the most isolated, vulnerable and hard-to-reach communities.

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