Female Genital Mutilation in Somalia: “Not a human rights issue, but a human lives issue”

On July 17, two days after undergoing a traditional Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) operation, 10-year-old Deeqa Dahir Nuur bled to death, in the first confirmed fatality from FGM in years.

Nuur was taken to a traditional cutter in her village of Olol on 14 July to undergo the surgery. In Somalia, the most common form of FGM is type III, or infibulation, involving “removal of part or all of the external genitalia (clitoris, labia minora, and labia majora) and stitching and/or narrowing of the vaginal opening,” reports the World Health organisation.

During the routine operation a vain was severed, and when the family were still unable to stop the haemorrhaging two days later, the girl was taken to Dhusmareb hospital, where she bled to death, said activist Hawa Aden Mohamed of the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development.

Dr Abdirahman Omar Hassan, who was on the team who tried to save the girl, told VoA that he had never seen “anyone who was mutilated like that in my life,” and also revealed she had caught tetanus, likely from the unsterilised equipment used during the original procedure.

Her father, Dahir Nuur, has defended the practise, saying that “people in the area are content” with FGM, because it’s part of the country’s culture. He also stated that he does not want to pursue charges, and held no one to blame for his daughter’s death.

This culture that Mr Nuur is defending, which according to UNICEF, see’s 98% of girls and women in Somalia undergoing FGM, is dangerous and has been proven to have no health benefits by the World Health Organisation.

Another issue with FGM, is the lack of punishment associated with carrying out the operation, even if it results in fatality. While in Somalia, FGM is constitutionally illegal,The Guardian reports that pressure from conservative and religious groups prevents lawmakers from passing legislation to punish offenders.

This case is no different. Mohamed said that, “the woman who performed the operation has not been arrested, but even if she was, there is no law that would ensure she is punished for the act.”

FGM is not only a health issue, but a human rights issue, and one that is deep rooted within Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Despite being identified by the United Nations as an “extreme form of discrimination against women and girls,” the practise is carried out mostly by women, who see it as a source of honour, and who feel that if they don’t have their daughters or grand-daughters cut, it will expose them to social exclusion.

The confirmation of this death caused by FGM is important, as it can help to debunk traditional myths surrounding the procedure, particularly the myth that it is not harmful.

While complications are common during the procedure, deaths often go un-reported, or are registered under a different description, activists say. Educating people that FGM can be lethal is an important step to confront the long standing views of FGM that maintain its prominence in places like Somalia.

Somalia representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Nikolai Botev, commented on their commitment to zero tolerance of FGM, saying that is is “not just a human rights issue but also a human lives issue.”

Deputy Minister for Defence, Abdulahi Olad has also called for the launch of an official campaign to end FGM.

There is no longer time for debate on FGM. With the international recognition that this confirmed fatality has attracted, there is an opportunity to take true social or legal action to break the dangerous and discriminatory cycle.

Lucy Blakiston