By Helen Vesperini ,AFP
Somalilandsun — It is a ritual supposed to keep women “pure,” but an increased understanding of the severe health risks of extreme forms of female genital mutilation appears to be slowly rolling back its prevalence in Somalia’s northwest.
In the self-declared Somali republic of Somaliland, most women over 25 have undergone the most extreme form of FGM, known as “pharaonic.” This entails removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, cutting out flesh from the vulva and sewing up the outer labia, leaving only a tiny orifice for the passage of urine and menstrual flow.
The procedure is normally done with a razor blade when the girl is between 5 and 11 years old, and without any pain killers. They remain sewn up until marriage, at which point they are either opened up during sex — causing pain and distress to both partners — or cut open with scissors.
“I cut girls for 15 years. My grandmother and mother taught me how and it was a source of income for me — but I stopped doing any cutting four years ago,” recounted Amran Mahmood.
“I decided to stop because of the problems. The worst time was when I was cutting a girl and she started bleeding. I injected the muscle to stop the bleeding and I cleaned the area and she kept on bleeding.”
As well as social status, being a so-called “cutter” brought in good money. Cutting one girl takes 30 minutes and brings in between US$30 and US$50, a large sum of money for Somaliland.
Amran’s own daughter was cut, but she swears her granddaughters will not undergo the full procedure.
After attending awareness programs organized by Tostan, an anti-FGM NGO financed by the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, Amran has become an anti-cutting advocate.
‘Things are changing’
The medical consequences of the stitching — urine retention, blocking of menstrual flow, pain, bleeding, infection and childbirth complications — have brought the practice into disrepute.
In the urban setting of Hargeysa at least, the generation who are adolescents today have largely abandoned it in favor of less extreme forms, which still involve the removal of the clitoris.
Their mothers, mindful of the pain they themselves have endured, support the change.
“Things are changing. There are now men willing to marry uncut girls,” said village headman Mohamed Said Mohamed, a Muslim like most in Somalia, sporting a graying beard and a traditional sarong.
“I am totally against cutting. It is not accepted by our religion.”