Amina* rises from her seat with a determined look. The faces of her fellow villagers show they are listening intently as she speaks. The meeting is a reproductive health training facilitated by PartnerAid.
Amina is sharing her opinion about the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM), a type of circumcision done on girls as young as 4 years old for the purpose of ensuring their purity. It is an ancient tradition deeply entrenched in the Somali community where 95 percent of all girls undergo the “female cut.”
Amina remembers the traumatic day she was circumcised, as nearly every Somali woman does. Usually performed without anesthesia using an unsterile razor or even broken glass, many girls die from hemorrhaging or infection. Most survive but go on to experience medical difficulties, in addition to the lifelong impact on their sexual and psychological wellbeing.
As a traditional birth attendant in the village of Hadhig Hadhig, Amina has many stories to tell: young mothers in labor and their babies dying during child birth as a direct result of complications caused by FGM.
Change Comes From Within
Despite the dangers, there is a strong cultural stigma for women who are not circumcised, particularly in rural areas. And, ironically, it is the older women of the community who are usually the ones to perpetuate the practice. Today, Amina protests the most severe form of FGM, which involves cutting off all of a girl’s external genitalia. Many in the community believe this is a requirement of Islam, but Amina uses both medical and religious arguments to prove there is no justification for the tradition.
Listening to Amina, one of the other women in the training is convinced. She speaks out: This form of FGM must stop. It is a small step forward, but an important one – a decision with ripple effects, as more and more Somalis embrace a new vision of what it means to be a woman of dignity.
At the heart of PartnerAid is a deep respect for the culture of the people with whom we partner. In Somalia, as everywhere, positive change must come from within – one decision at a time.
*not her real name