5 February 2020

International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM 2020

I am a survivor of FGM, cut at the age of 6 and the worst form of FGM (type 3). As a Somali girl, I grew up knowing every Muslim girl is cut and that my community did ‘a bad type’ because of our culture. When I joined University in the 1990s I met other Muslim girls on campus. One day the topic of FGM came up (we referred to it us female circumcision). My friend, an Indian girl, was shocked that I was cut because according to her it was a ‘savage’ practice undertaken by people who did not believe in God. It was my turn to be shocked - that this friend of my, clad in her Buibui (Burka) was not cut. The script I had was that her prayers are not accepted if she is not cut. But she was praying and fasting and dressed in hijab. So who was right? This question stayed with me until 1995 after the Beijing conference. For the first time I came across a document that said ‘many Muslims practise FGM thinking it is religious when actually it is only sunnah’. What? You mean the painful thing I went through was only sunnah, meaning optional. I wondered why I was forced to undergo something that was not a must in Islam. I recounted the number of optional religious acts that nobody forced me to do. Like fasting Mondays and Thursdays. After battling anger and lots of questions, I decided it was time to say no to FGM. In my own small way, armed with the narrative that it was only an optional practice, I would engage family members and I tried saving my nieces. Unfortunately, I couldn’t. The affirmation that it was an optional Islamic act even meant we were legitimizing it. FGM was one thing that always stopped me in my tracks whenever it came to mind; and I would immediately begin conversations with Allah to show me what to do.

When in 2006 I got the opportunity to work with the Population Council, I knew I had to address FGM from a religious perspective. I wanted an interrogation of the support for the so-called ‘sunnah’ because linking such a painful thing to my religion of mercy and prosperity was unsettling (we are not allowed to mutilate even animals imagine doing it to human beings!). We crafted the religious oriented approach together with renowned Muslim scholars in Kenya who were consultants on the project. These scholars were non-Somali and decisively chosen to lead the dialogue because of the sheer fact that they will not be blinded by the cultural ‘baggage’ that other Somali scholars had who were brought up knowing FGM to be the norm. This was even before social norm change theories even came to the force. We were thinkers ahead of our time!

I have undertaken FGM abandonment programming- community dialogues, the engagement of religious scholars, research, documentation, working on policy and legal framework. I am part of the team that saw the drafting of the Prohibition of FGM Bill in Kenya which is an Act now and strategized for its passing. This Bill was being presented to Parliament after FGM was removed from the Sexual Offenses Bill 2006; saying they could not legislate on people’s culture. As a result we embarked on sensitizing Parliamentarians on what the practice entailed first before tabling the Bill. That Bill passed in a record first reading. 

Today, I can proudly say that I know FGM has no link to Islam. I can also say that there are a number of Somali scholars who delink FGM from Islam now, thanks to the engagements we did. Slow but progress is there. We can easily discuss FGM on TV, radio, in community gatherings etc. For the Somali community, and any others that link FGM to religion, delink FGM from say Islam and use the same Islam to change the scripts and narratives holding it in place. I am now doing lots of advocacy on social media and am part of the End FGM Canada Network.