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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Somali religious leaders and high-level officials join hands to put an end to all forms of FGM/C

June 3, 2011
Unicef Somalia
Charity Koronya

Seventy religious leaders and some of Somaliland’s highest officials participated in a public gathering in Hargeisa to declare their support and commitment to the abandonment of all forms of the practice of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C).

While presiding over the occasion, Somaliland’s First Lady Amina Waris mentioned that men are the key perpetuators of FGM/C while women are the ones who have to suffer the consequences including complications during child birth. "Men are the ones who insist on marrying circumcised girls, so if men don't change their attitude towards FGM/C, the practice will never die out" she said. "I am pleased to see that respected religious leaders have decided to publicly declare the abandonment of all types of FGM/C in Somaliland because people listen to them. Let us put the interest of our daughters first and ensure that they remain intact as they were created by Allah". 

There is still a deep belief among Somalis that FGM/C has its roots not only in local culture, but also in Islamic doctrine.  Given religious leaders’ strong influence and status and their ability to reach different levels of society, UNICEF and UNFPA have started working with them in 2009 through a project that initiated dialogue and engaged Somalia’s religious leadership with revered international Islamic scholars to reach consensus that FGM/C is not a religious obligation.

This approach of creating consensus among religious leaders aims to facilitate the development of a high-level policy and legal framework as well as to create awareness among communities to ultimately trigger behavioural change.

The dialogue in which Sheikhs and Imams have participated during 2010 has culminated in the form of public declarations held by religious leaders in both Somaliland and Puntland during May this year.

The Minister of Religious Affairs and prominent religious leader Sheikh Khalil addressed the gathering in Hargeisa saying that "it is very clear that the holy Quran does not support FGM/C in any way. I call upon all the religious leaders wherever they are to join hands to protect our daughters and women from having their organs cut".

The Minister informed the participants that the Ministry of Religious Affairs will support all activities aimed at FGM/C abandonment including the formation of the ‘Religious Leaders Network Against FGM/C’. Both the First Lady and the Minster called on everyone including young men who are potential husbands to the girls to ensure they are vigilant to protect the health and rights of girls and women.

During the coming months, UNICEF and UNFPA will work to ensure that these committed Sheikhs and Imams are supported to carry out awareness and dialogue sessions in the community, so that a greater number of community members, religious leaders and policy makers have an accurate understanding of the non-Islamic nature of FGM/C.