Somalia: Woman defies custom by refusing FGM for her daughters

A mother tells how the type of genital mutilation practised in Somalia is full infibulation when the girls are about five to seven years old.
Hawo Nagash attests to having seen the terrible health problems that girls and women suffer who have been subjected to Female Genital Mutilation. The pain often lasts a lifetime, and women have problems giving birth.
Hawo Nagash, 40, was born in Lower Juba valley in southern Somalia. The marriage between her grandfather, an Eritrean, and a Somali, rendered the family "tribeless", causing much suffering, especially during times of war.

"My father was arrested and tortured. After he was released from jail in 1991 he decided things had become intolerable in Somalia so gathered my sisters and brothers. We planned to meet in Doble, [then] cross the border into Kenya.

"We literally ran from Kismayo to Doble because the situation had got so bad, and there was fighting everywhere. My husband was called Abdul. One night when we were hiding in Doble waiting for my father, four gunmen broke into the room and started beating him with the butts of their rifles and then shot him dead. They then started to rape me.

"Three days later my father, whose wife had disappeared and who had also been tortured on his way to Doble, arrived and took me to Kenya. We had nothing but the clothes we stood up in and we walked to Dadaab.

"I managed to finish my education in 1999 in Dadaab and this meant I was able to do part-time work for NGOs. I married again and life became a bit more settled but the discrimination we had faced in Somalia continued.

"I had three daughters by my second husband. In 2002, I told my husband I was not prepared to have them circumcised, as is the tradition of all Somali families. When my husband's mother heard that, she complained and tried to force my husband to circumcise them when I was not around.

"My sisters also complained, saying it was going to bring more stigma to my family. When I refused, my mother-in-law forced her son to divorce me. He no longer comes to visit his daughters and gives us no support. He has a new wife.

"My decision is making life hard in the camp, but I will never go back on it. I have seen the terrible health problems that girls and women suffer who have been circumcised. There is terrible pain that often lasts a lifetime, and women have terrible problems giving birth.

"The type of FGM practised here is full infibulation at about five to seven years old. As a mother I could never do that to my children. I love them too much. The girls are often bullied in school and the younger twins, who are 11, have both been badly beaten. One suffers from partial deafness as the injury affected her eardrum. Children shout at them, saying they are dirty.

"I was working as a counsellor for CARE International in the camp on women's issues, but I have had to stop to look after my children. They were suffering so much bullying and I now have to walk them to and from school.

"I try to make other women realise the dangers of what they do to their children, but there are very few women who have had the courage to do what I have done. I think it is because I have lived with discrimination my whole life that I don't care, as long as my daughters don't have to suffer the physical and emotional pain of circumcision.

"My hope is to continue trying to make women aware of their rights ... My biggest fear is that someone from my family will take my daughters one night and try to circumcise them. I have no protection and no man in my life to protect us."

10 February 2009

Source: IRIN