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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Somali communities say ‘No’ to female genital cutting

December 14, 2009

By Denise Shepherd-Johnson

NAIROBI, Kenya, 14 December 2009 – Last month, hundreds of men, women and children gathered in a Somali stadium in the early morning heat to witness a historic declaration: the collective abandonment of female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C) by representatives from 20 communities.

The event, attended and lauded by women’s activists, religious leaders and local government officials, was the culmination of over three years’ work by the international non-governmental organization Tostan and its local partner, the Somaliland Culture and Sports Association (SOCSA).

As representatives of each of the 20 communities stepped forward to endorse the Declaration, UNICEF Representative in Somalia Rozanne Chorlton called the event “truly momentous”.

Somalia has one of the highest prevalence rates of FGM/C in the world - more than 98 per cent of women between the ages of 15-49 have undergone the process.

Community effort

By promoting the development of critical thinking and decision-making skills, the UNICEF-supported Tostan programme empowers communities to prioritize public issues and resolve problems together

© UNICEF Somalia/2009/ Shepherd-Johnson
Yurub (centre) has pledged never to circumcise her youngest daughters, age three and four.

In this way, 14 communities that initially participated in the programme influenced six more villages to join them in making the declaration of FGM/C abandonment.

"These communities, as true agents of change, have talked to their neighbours, shared experiences and made an informed decision to uphold the rights of children and women. Today’s declaration is a result of that consensus. UNICEF will continue to support initiatives that put communities at the centre of development and social change,” said Ms. Chorlton during her address to the gathering.

A similar public declaration in October 2009 saw 14 communities from northeast Somalia also collectively proclaim their abandonment of FGM/C. Commitment from families

Even without the official declaration, the Tostan programme has been changing Somali lives.

“I was already active in my community and became a community management committee member in my village of Daami,” said Yurub, a 40-year-old mother of four girls, who has already pledged never to circumcise her youngest daughters. “I realized through the Tostan programme that I should no longer cut my girls. Some women have challenged me but my husband supports and encourages me. I am confident in my decision and I am committed to it.”

With funding from the Swiss Committee for UNICEF, the Tostan community empowerment programme was conducted successfully in 28 communities in northwest and northeast Somalia and will expand to additional communities in 2010.