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Monday, December 14, 2009

Female Genital Cutting: An End in Sight

Female genital cutting (FGC), a widespread practice among Somali women and girls living in the Dadaab refugee camps of north-eastern Kenya, is on the decline due to a range of awareness-raising programmes on the radio and having on-demand access. Dagahaley, Hagadera and Ifo - the three camps that comprise Dadaab, the largest refugee site in the world - are pushing 300,000 people, 53% of whom are women. Using the Lifeline radios, these women can, for the first time, listen to broadcasts on various aspects of female health and well-being, thereby making informed choices and abandoning the traditional custom of FGC.
Somali women's group at dadaab camp with their Lifeline Radio Somali Women at Dadaab camp with their Lifeline Radio image 1: Somali women's listening group at the Dagahaley refugee camp image 2: Somali women at Ifo with their Lifeline radio

For example Zheinab her eldest daughter, now ten, was circumcised two years ago, when she was still unaware of FGC's long-term medical consequences. Her younger girls have not been subjected to the same agony and trauma since. Taking the bold decision not to circumcise her two other daughters, even though uncircumcised girls and their families are frequently stigmatised by the larger community, was championed by Zheinab's husband.

Twenty-two-year-old Fatima also discontinued the prevalent tradition after hearing radio programmes on FGC and understanding Islam's position on the issue. An increased awareness of the health and social risks involved urged her not to circumcise her daughters. In addition, the effective messages in the features aired convinced her to undergo training on FGC and spread the knowledge in her community, in an attempt to help eradicate the practice.

Zheinab and Fatima are amongst many other women in the refugee camps who have provoked debate, discussion and organic change within their communities on a significant topic such as FGC. This is the key to the elimination of this custom.

A tremendous outcome of the Somali Women's Learning Project, an innovative, high impact, three-year communications initiative of the Freeplay Foundation and its partners, the United High Commissioner for refugees (UNHCR), the Pastoralist Journalist Network (PAJAN) and CARE, more than 7,500 women and girls living in Garissa district have been informed, educated and empowered to make life-changing decisions through 500 Lifeline radios. Additionally, the radios are reaching thousands more men and children, as the women in their communities gain the knowledge, confidence and power to share the information they learn and take brave steps to improve their lives.

UNHCR approached the Freeplay Foundation a few years ago, after a survey indicated that only one in 500 refugees had access to radio.