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UNICEF: Communities Key To Ending Female Genital Cutting In Somalia
Nairobi, Kenya, November 24, 2005 (UNICEF) – Community empowerment holds the key to ending the practice of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in Somalia UNICEF Somalia Representative, Christian Balslev-Olesen said today, as the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre launched its global report, 'Changing A Harmful Social Convention: Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting'.
"Somalia has one of the highest prevalence rates of FGM/C in the world with more than 98% of Somali girls between the ages of 7 to 12 being cut," said Mr. Balslev-Olesen. "But this report demonstrates that with a better understanding of why of FGM/C persists, we can work with communities to end this practice. And we believe this can be achieved within one generation."
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting - in all its forms - is a harmful practice because it violates a range of human rights including the right to life, the right to health, the right to freedom from discrimination and physical and mental violence, injury or abuse.
The procedure involves the total removal of the clitoris, labia minora and severing of the inner side of the labia majora: often without the use of anesthesia.
Endorsing the theme of the report, Health Minister with the Transitional Federal Government, Hon. Abdilaziz Sheikh Yusuf said, "I call on all Somalis to end this practice because of the problems it brings especially for women. All Somalis must come to know that it is a bad practice."
As evidenced in Somalia , the report outlines that FGM/C is a deeply entrenched social convention that is also a prerequisite for marriage. If only one family abandons FGM/C, its daughter will not be marriageable. However, collective abandonment by inter-marrying communities reduces the stigma and social isolation of not being cut.
The Innocenti report presents documentary evidence from countries like Senegal and Guinea that succeeded in ending the practice through community empowerment and the support of religious and other opinion leaders, legislative and policy measures, public discussion and culturally sensitive messages.
Says Balslev-Olesen, "I have met mothers who do not want to cut their daughters but social convention demands that they do so. Young men tell me that they will not marry a girl who has been cut but social pressure will probably determine otherwise. It is within this context that UNICEF will work with communities throughout the country to guide them in a process of reflection, analysis and public discussion on the issue of FGM/C to bring about collective change. We will also facilitate dialogue between Islamic scholars and Somali religious leaders to reach consensus on this issue"
Already pledging his support for the abandonment of FGM/C, Somali religious leader Sheikh Ahmed Hasan Qudubi commented from Mogadishu , "Neither the Koran nor the Xadith endorse FGM. Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia do not practice FGM. I have four girls and I have not cut any of them."
According to UNICEF Representative, Christian Balslev-Olesen, "We know that lasting social change is complex and takes time but the success of community empowerment initiatives in countries like Senegal demonstrates that this approach, when supported by adequate resources and concerted advocacy, can indeed accelerate the process of abandonment."
For further information contact:
1. Christian Balslev-Olesen, Representative, UNICEF Somalia . Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Tel: +254-20-623950/53/55/70. Mobile : +254-722-514-569/733-629-933.
2. Denise Shepherd-Johnson, Head Communication, Advocacy and External Relations, UNICEF Somalia: Email: email@example.com. Tel: +254-20-623950/53/55/70. Mobile : +254-722-719-867
The 'Innocenti Digest' Report, 'Changing A Harmful Social Conventions: Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, analyses the most current data to illustrate where FGM/C is practiced and outlines key trends, including the age at which girls are cut, the type of cutting involved and the practitioner who carried it out. It looks at the principal ways in which FGM/C violates a girl's or woman's human rights – including the serious physical, psychological and social implications the harmful practice. It outlines the most promising approaches being used in the communities to support the abandonment of the practice. It also looks at complementary efforts being made at the national and international levels to end FGM/C.
Copies of the report in English, French, Arabic, Italian and Spanish are available from the Innocenti Center 's Newsroom on the web at: http://www.unicef-icdc.org/presscentre/indexNewsroom.html