Female Genital Mutilation in Somalia

By Emmie Heiserman

International Women's Initiative Staff Writer

(Cover Photo Source) 

An estimated 98% of girls undergo female genital mutilation (FGM) in Somalia. While FGM is deeply ingrained in the culture of Somalia, it is abuse. Young girls across the world are forced to partake in a ritual that physically alters their body in a way that has no health benefits, aims to control them to strict sexual purity standards, and leaves mental and physical scars that in many cases are irreversible.   

According to UNICEF, at least 200 million women and girls living today worldwide have been victims of FGM. This outdated and unsafe practice involves removing part or the entire clitoris for reasons that are not of a medical purpose. The unsafe practice of FGM often leaves women with emotional trauma and other harmful health consequences such as infertility and bacterial infections. There are four types of FGM. Type three, one of the most extreme, involves sewing the vagina shut, which is more commonly practiced in Somalia than anywhere else in the world. This type specifically causes extreme pain and emotional distress. In addition, the vaginal opening must be cut for a woman to give birth or sometimes even have sexual intercourse posing a constant risk for infection. There are severe health risks involved in female genital mutilation. According to UNICEF, fistula, Perineal tears, and obstructed labor are common. The children of FGM victims are also susceptible to extreme complications at birth. 

Although article 15 of the constitution of Somalia, which was added in 2012, prohibits female circumcision even adding, “female circumcision is a cruel and degrading customary practice, and is tantamount to torture,” Somalia has the highest percentage of their women population being cut at 98%. 

FGM is most commonly performed between the ages of 5-10, which violates state protections laid out by the Convention of the Rights of the Child, which Somalia has signed and ratified.  

Looking forward, education about the harmful effects and abuse that FGM perpetuates must be brought to community leaders and parents in areas where FGM is prevalent in order to abolish this practice. Ratification of the Convention of the Rights of the Child is clearly unsufficient. In order to stop these abuses, policies need to be put in place to support women who are victims of this practice as well as criminalize perpetrators guilty of performing FGM. Somalia has not done enough to denounce the practice, so thousands of women will stop suffering.