Should FGM Be A Societal Problem?

By Yohanes Jemaneh

Five years ago, the prevalence of harmful traditional practices were very high in Somali state. The government has been trying to reduce such practices thereby making the state free from such harmful traditions. Together with other stakeholders, the states’ Culture and Tourism Office has also been working extensively to achieving this objective.

The office is mainly focusing on reducing circumcision which has been widely practiced in the state, besides abduction, rape and abasement. Explaining the reason behind, Office Communication Officer Abdek Mohammad said that contrary to other harmful traditional practices, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is associated with and justified by religion and hence considered a decent act.

Therefore, the state administration has for long been conducting various activities to raise the awareness of the society on how FGM make their children’s lives miserable. Circumcision does not only cause pain and suffering on the little girls during the cutting of part of their genitals. Rather it has a long term impact which extends to their adulthood. For instance, they suffer pain mainly during urination, menstruation and sexual activity.

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Moreover, the consequence is even worse during pregnancy and delivery. Beyond the bodily pain, the psychological impact could not also be healed easily. Therefore, understanding the magnitude of the problem, the Office together with Women, Children and Youth Affair Office have been working extensively to reduce the prevalence of harmful practices. By deploying trained midwives, the Office has been working with legislative bodies such as state and sharia courts, public figures and religious leaders, among others to achieve its objective.

According to Abdek, the main challenge in preventing FGM is the societies’ low level of awareness regarding the painful consequences of circumcision. Thus, raising the awareness of the society should be among the top priorities if one wants to alleviate FGM. That is why the Office has been working with prominent personalities and religious leaders. Furthermore, the legal punishment of wrongdoers could be a lesson for others to restrain themselves from involving in such harmful traditions.

Medical didactics which have been given at hospitals and other health care institutions have their own impact to improve the awareness of women and change the mindset of people in their environs. Here, it is worth mentioning the tenacious effort of Karamara hospital.

Then again, state Women, Children and Youth Affair Office, Gender Department Case Team Coordinator Zehara Abdi indicated that the hospital has assisted the effort of fighting FGM by treating FGM and other related cases, conducting researches thereby identifying loopholes and recommending possible solutions to control other traditional malpractices as well. It also delivers medical documents during court proceedings.

The hospital is also constructing a center that would provide wide range of services for FGM patients. According to her, the construction will be finalized and become fully operational within the coming two years. In this regard, Women, Children and Youth Affair Office is working very closely with all stakeholders for the successful completion of the center, she said.

In Ethiopia, the majority of urban areas are free from traditional harmful practices because they have the chance to access awareness raising educational programmes via various media outlets. On the contrary, people in rural areas do not have similar opportunities. The same is true in Somali state that most urban dwellers send their children to school and are aware of harmful traditional practices.

According to Zehara, traditional harmful practices are widely practiced in rural areas. Despite the challenges, that is the reason why her office is mainly providing assistance in such areas. Besides, it trains and deploys experts to raise awareness of the public on the consequences FGM.

Using the one to five arrangements, the Office has been trying to evaluate its activities and expose wrongdoers in relation to FGM. For this to happen, it is coherently working with the state’s Justice Office. Creating alternative job opportunities for those people who are engaged in performing circumcision is another activity which has been carried out by the office. In this regard, Zehara underlined that financial support of all partners is decisive.

On the other hand, women are organized to mobilize psychological, financial and material supports so as to be empower and protect themselves from societal influence. They are also encouraged to expose traditional harmful practices through their organizations.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), has also been signed between the office and other stakeholders to reduce FGM in the state. The Offices of Justice, Women Affairs and Culture and Tourism, all of these and other stakeholders have agreed to be led by the MoU in order to face the challenges in fighting FGM. As Zehara said, currently many women are coming to the Women Affairs Office in search for justice when their rights are violated. The office is also working together with legislative organs and other pertinent bodies to protect their rights.

The office is also actively engaged in empowering women using traditional coffee ceremonies as a platform for having discussions that build their psychological make up to face future challenges. In such occasions, the women are encouraged to raise the awareness to their respective communities and expose FGM practices.

To sum up, such traditional harmful practices’ reduction programmes have to be sustainable. They should also be expanded to other parts of the country. The government also need to set up legislative mechanisms to get rid of these harmful traditional practices. Furthermore, it is essential to be working particularly in rural areas to address the problem from grass root levels. After all, in this age of information and rapid economic growth, FGM should not continue to be societal problem anymore.

The collaboration between the office and other pertinent bodies is based on a strategic programme that is systematically setup following the study made by Karamara hospital. The study shows that only 13 percent of the total population (patients) are free from circumcision. According to Zehara, the state government has offered financial and material support to the office and other stakeholders interested in addressing FGM.


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