According to a recent report, the awareness of the harms of FGM/C has increased significantly amongst parents in Somaliland. Even though there is an increasing number of parents who want to abandon tradition, COVID-19 has caused FGM/C cases to surge.
According to a recent report, 87 per cent of parents in Somaliland understand the negative health consequences caused by FGM/C. The number has risen by 15 percentage points from the baseline level which was measured less than a year ago.
These results appear to be promising in a country that has the world’s highest FGM/C prevalence: as much as 98 % of women have been cut. On the other hand, the prevailing situation does not look as promising. Even though awareness has increased, have cases of FGM/C surged during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The most notable cause for the surge is the current situation regarding the pandemic itself. COVID-19 has limited families’ income sources, as informal work has been restricted. This has increased the allure of cutting the daughters: marrying them off brings families financial gains. There is a belief that a girl must be cut in order for her to be fit for marriage, as it is believed to ensure a girl’s honourability and premarital virginity.
The cutter is a profession that is mostly held by women. As other sources of income have become limited, cutters have become more active. Local CMCs have been harnessed to prevent cutters from working in the ISF programme villages, but that has been made increasingly difficult because of the prevailing movement restrictions. “Now that there is less monitoring, cutters have been witnessed moving from door to door, offering their services,” reports Amuun Qawdhan from Candlelight, a civil organisation working to end FGM/C in Somaliland.
School closures are another reason behind the increase in FGM/C. FGM/C is performed in the area the most when girls spend long times at home so that they can recover from the operation in peace without it interrupting their schoolwork.
The consequences of COVID-19 for girls are severe. This is how the project officer Amina Hamud from NAFIS, a local committee against FGM/C, describes the situation: “On several occasions, we have had to transport girls from remote villages to hospitals because of the heavy bleeding caused by FGM/C.”
Parents are at forefront of ending the tradition, but a change cannot be kickstarted unless it is considered best for the children in the eyes of the community. The social pressure to continue the tradition eases when influential community members start publicly speaking against it. The increase in awareness is the necessary first step in making the parents see the tradition in a different light.
The report has been conducted in the ISF programme areas in Somaliland and is supported by the UN Trust Fund.