Female circumcision, in line with the Somali community, is a practice that comes with deep-rooted culture and religion.
Girls are cut at the age of 9 and proponents argue that it helps in maintaining chastity.
Among the community, women play a critical role in the preparation of female circumcision.
The men, on the other hand, support their daughters by providing ‘circumcision fees’.
“The practice of female circumcision is based on custom and religion. Community members believe that only through female genital mutilation is a girl confirmed to be a virgin,” says Mr. Ali, a local elder.
“Uncircumcised girl, to the community, is not a true believer and no man will marry her. Just because it has been the tradition, many people will look forward to seeing the practice continue.”
Cultural practices like female circumcision are a sensitive subject especially among the female members of the Somali community.
Through awareness by local and international organizations spearheaded by UNICEF, some countries and communities abandoned female genital mutilation.
What is Female Genital Mutilation?
According to the UN organization, female genital mutilation (FGM) practice involves changing or injuring female genital without a medical reason and is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.
Sewing and closing the female genital, locally called Fir’oni circumcision, was the trend among the Somali community.
While the fir’oni type is prominent in rural settings, ‘nicking or scratching without removing flesh, called Sunni is taking over.
“Some of the inherited religious aspects from the prophets include circumcision; both male and female”, clarifies Sheikh Mohamed Abdi Umal, a famous imam based in Nairobi. “Sunni type of circumcision is preferred”.
He further states that according to Ijma (agreement by Muslim scholars on religious issues), female circumcision is a permitted practice which is Sunnah (optional).
Notably, the imam adds that mutilation, cutting and sewing the female genital is totally against Islamic culture.
“Traditionally, if a man discovers that his newlywed wife is not circumcised, he will divorce her the following morning, an embarrassment for the family,” says Mrs. Khadija.
“The family is supposed to return the dowry once the girl is not cut,” she says adding that in some urban families, such practice is outdated.
The majority of Somali community proponents of female circumcision base their argument on culture and religion.
In 2011, the Kenyan legislature outlawed the Female Genital Mutilation practice. The law punishes those who practice the cutting.
Of the 200 million girls and women who underwent FGM globally, 44 million are girls aged 14 and below.
Somalia has the highest prevalence of young girls going through the cut, 98 percent.
Among the community, water fetched by uncut girls cannot be consumed at home, they say the water is haram; forbidden.
Parents cutting their daughters express concern over sexual control before the girl comes of age.
An uncut girl is said to easily lose moral behaviors and in a move to protect her dignity and image, the cutting, as they say, is an essential part of her life.
Parental disobedience is also another trait why many girls go through the knife.
“A girl who is not cut will likely not heed her parent’s advice and it may see her getting married to the wrong person or before reaching the mature marriage age,” explains Mrs. Fatuma.
Another reason for cutting is pressure from peers. Considering the value associated with female circumcision, girls and women will likely be proud to have joined the league of womanhood, a transition to marriage.
Cleanliness is yet another base for circumcising girls at a tender age. Community members blatantly support the practice of making their women and girls clean and ready for marriage.
In this regard, many Somali women and men will likely see a continuation of female circumcision.
Impact on the girl and family
There are various documented risks associated with female genital mutilation among girls and women; either physically or psychologically. Health complications are remarkably the chief reason for disbanding it.
“First and foremost, female circumcisers are different; some of them are better experienced than others. When the practice is conducted very carefully, in most cases, it doesn’t bring health-related challenges,” says one female local community member.
She adds that cutting normally goes wrong when old fogies perform the cutting on the young girls.
Proper flow of menstrual blood is a health challenge. When conducting the practice, like expressed above, the genital is sewn and closed, leaving very small space for blood flow and urination.
This, unfortunately, will not have the blood to flow out efficiently, putting her life in danger.
The small space left, when the girl is married, poses an intimacy threat to her marriage.
Remember, it is foolproof to ascertain virginity among practicing individuals. Unluckily, domestic violence and divorce rise.
Bleeding of the wound when the cutting goes wrong is seen among girls. With the laws prohibiting the cut, fearing authority, parents may leave alone the girls to suffer. Excess bleeding can cause death.
Upon confession by some parents, female genital mutilation hugely impacts a girl child’s education.
Having changed the type of female circumcision, in some Somali community settings, girls after going through genital nicking or scratching, continue their learning.
Currently, girls don’t go through much after the Sunni circumcision. After two days or even less, the girl goes back to school.
Among the practicing communities, parents who decline their daughter’s chance to go through the cultural knife will be perceived to spread immorality and make their daughters go astray.
“It is common knowledge that such family will be put to discrimination and isolation. For the daughter, other boys and girls won’t spare her either; calling names and discouraging suitors”, states mama Asha, adding that such abuse results in fights.
Though few Somali community members will disapprove of female circumcision, the bone of contention for the rest is the type of cut she goes through; fir’oni or Sunni?
Legal or illegal?
In a turn of events, in early January 2018, a medical doctor, Tatu Kamau, filed a case at Machakos High Court arguing FGM to be legalized by the state and abolish Anti-FGM board.
Dr. Tatu stressed the cultural aspect of the practice among African settings.
Hoping the court to declare the FGM act unconstitutional, the doctor says that every female adult has the right to make their sound made decisions.
“Every citizen has the right to equality and freedom from discrimination but the said Act shows open intolerance to women who wish to undergo female circumcision eve for the purpose of upholding their culture. They are treated unequally to the men who undergo similar surgical procedures”.
Men and boys, as much as the practice is rooted in tradition, play a role in promoting female circumcision simply because they prefer a woman bravely went through the pain of mutilation. Male colleagues will gossip and condemn uncircumcised girls.
“It will be embarrassing to marry a woman who is not cut. Community members will never approve of such union and intense pressure mostly result in divorce”, says a local elder.
As the world commemorates zero tolerance to female genital mutilation, the awareness should be accelerated especially among the parents.
In this case, mothers must be the chief target. For the Somali community, women understand the practice way better.
Circumcision, especially among women, is a cultural-sensitive subject. Authorities of all caliber should involve the voice of the community members in addressing challenges linked to FGM.
Female circumcisers have to receive training. Truth be told, the practice is continuing without being reported.
How many girls are wrongly circumcised and for fear of authority left alone to suffer, some may even die.
To change the narrative, community female circumcisers must be absorbed in the health fraternity, lessening the impact.