Somalia, the country with the highest prevalence of female genital mutilation in the world, has given its strongest signal yet that it will outlaw the brutal practice.At a recent conference in Mogadishu, Sahra Mohammed Ali Samatar, the minister for women’s affairs, indicated that the country was moving towards an FGM ban. “Time has come for us to eradicate this bad practice and protect the rights of girls and women in our country,’’ she said.
A spokeswoman for the ministry confirmed that work was under way to introduce a bill banning the practice, currently carried out on 98% of girls in the country.
But the spokeswoman said time was running out to ensure it could be passed before potential elections next year. There are many barriers to overcome, and it is understood that the bill has not yet been drafted.
“The process of change can be very long in Somalia and there is a lot of resistance, but we are committed to making this happen,” said Ifrah Ahmed, of the ministry. “These comments from the minister are a strong sign that Somalia will ban FGM. There are real steps being made but we have to act with urgency.”
According to a recent Unicef report, more than 130 million girls and women have been subjected to FGM in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East. The practice, which is carried out mainly on children, involves removing part or all of a girl’s outer sexual organs and can result in lifelong pain, infections, infertility and difficulties in childbirth.
In Somalia a policy on FGM is still at consultation stage, and any law would have to be passed by the cabinet, religious leaders and members of parliament.
Mary Wandia, FGM programme manager at Equality Now, praised Somalia for taking a “huge leap” with the proposed ban but warned that it would have to be firmly implemented.
“Urgent implementation of the law needs to follow to ensure that the next generation of Somali girls is freed from this extreme form of violence and discrimination,” she said. “Momentum is growing towards better laws for women and girls, and African women are leading the change.”
Cody Donahue, a child protection specialist for Unicef, said the news was especially welcome from Somalia because the practice was nearly universal there.
“Legislation is an important first step, but much more needs to be done to end the practice,” he said. “New legislation needs to be matched with community-led programmes that help reduce the stigma of not undergoing FGM and raise awareness of the law. Even if individual parents have doubts about FGM, the fact that others in the community do it helps maintain the practice. Ultimately to end FGM we need to change attitudes alongside laws.”
A spokesman for the UK’s Department for International Development said: “Somalia’s pledge to ban female genital mutilation has the potential to save millions of girls and women from the suffering caused by this practice. The minister’s words are encouraging – the next step is to turn this plan into legislation that can drive real change.”