Araweelo News Network

These are the young men struggling against all odds to enact change in a generation and improve the lives of Somali women

Khadar, 23, has been challenging men to speak out against FGM in Hargeisa, Somaliland. Photograph: Alice Rowsome

Hargeisa(ANN)-In Somaliland, Unicef estimates that about 98% of girls and women between 15 and 49 are subjected to some form of female genital mutilation – almost a despairing figure. This is largely an issue in the hands of women, and not something openly discussed. Yet Unicef believes it is vital that men are part of any solution. Young men in the region who are against the practice are forming a growing movement for change, but the drought crisis is dominating people’s lives right now.
Khadar, 23

“The first thing I did as a campaigner is convince my sister not to do Type III FGM on her daughter. I told her about the side effects and I also made her listen to Islamic scholars that are against the practice to show her that FGM is not religious. After a lot of negotiation, she agreed and didn’t do it. I am proud of that.” Khadar was trained in FGM awareness by the indigenous-Somali organisation Candlelight.

“Men, in general do not speak about FGM. It remains a taboo,” he says.

“Men here are the heads of the household and this means they can play an important role in ending FGM, if they chose to.”

While studying at New Generation University College in Hargeisa, Khadar was exposed to the realities and consequences of FGM on women’s health. “Once I realised the psychological and physical trauma, I was against it.” He became an anti-FGM ambassador at his university and felt more confident in challenging some of his peers. “When I tell others all the facts, especially young people, they are easily convinced. Lack of knowledge is the reason FGM is still practiced in Somaliland. I am confident that FGM can be eradicated in one generation.”

Mohamed, 23, uses social media to spread the message Photograph: Alice Rowsome

Mohamed, 23
Sitting opposite him drinking spiced tea, Mohamed nods his heads in agreement. “Our parents’ generation really didn’t talk about FGM but now, you know, we speak about it among our friends. This will make a big difference.”
Also trained by Candlelight and now working as a project co-ordinator for ActionAid, Mohamed has embraced social media to spark debate.

“Men have seen first hand the impact of FGM on their wives. In some, lesser ways, men have been affected too. Many say that they struggle because they see their wife in pain and cannot have sex with them. They see that FGM takes away all sexual pleasure for women. They want their wives to have pleasure too. And so largely, they are against it.

“FGM can cause divorces, a bad thing for society. But because there is no dialogue and because it is taboo, they don’t speak out.” he says.

Social media, both men agree, has proved an important tool. “I have been posting many different articles about the work we are doing. Due to the sensitive nature of the topic, it has proved a good way for people to read about it in their own time, from the privacy of their phones and computers.”

Ali, 28, who leads Candlelight’s FGM campaign, warns that the drought is affecting everything. Photograph: Alice Rowsome

Ali, 28
Ali, who leads Candlelight’s FGM campaign, warns that the drought is affecting the anti-FGM campaign.

“We can’t go to communities who have no water or food and announce to them we are here to tell them to stop FGM. It would be absurd.”

Most of Candlelight’s outreach campaigns are aimed at communities in rural areas – where Type III FGM is the standard. Anti-FGM events they organise usually bring together community elders, religious leaders, local men and women, youth and university students like Ali and Mohamed.

But Somaliland is suffering from one of the worst droughts in years. The water and food security crisis has meant that all of their programmes in rural villages, that were due to start in January, have been cancelled until they are able to provide water and food to the communities they are targeting.

“While people don’t have enough food and water it is not sensible for us to talk about FGM with them,” says Ali.

Alice Rowsome’s trip to the region was facilitated by two Somali organisations, Candlelight and Transparency Solutions.