Anna Rakich, Franklin & Marshall College
SOMALIA– “Don’t move, don’t scream, and if you tell anyone, we will kill you.” That is what Aisha, now 33, was told while she was tied down to a table against her will. Aisha is a victim of Female Genital Mutilation.
“I was dragged to a fence covered in leaves, and they took the blindfold off. I could see the other girls bleeding and sobbing in pain. I saw an old woman holding a knife so sharp I could see the drops of blood sliding down the edge. It was the blood of the other girls. Three other women were holding down my arms and legs, and another was sitting right on my chest, covering my mouth. I can still visualize all their faces. I can see what each one of them looks like and the emotions that they had — so empty, like they didn’t see me as a human being.”
One of the world’s greatest tragedies is the belief that “if nobody sees it, it didn’t happen”. Aisha is one of 200 million victims of Female Genital Mutilation. However, the pain of these women and children is silenced by lack of awareness. Today, media coverage is largely responsible for why some topics gain more traction in the international community, and why others are overshadowed. However, after years of ravaging the lives of young girls and women, someone has decided to take action. The Somali government has finally decided to expose and ban FGM for its brutality and inhumanity.
While the rest of the world was arguing over political correctness, women and children were dying from excruciating procedures and fatal diseases as a result of unsterilized equipment. To give some background, according to the World Health Organization Female Genital Mutilation is the intentional alteration or injury of the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. There is absolutely no benefit. Instead, women and children- mostly between the ages of infancy and 15- are forced to endure severe bleeding, problems urinating, cysts, and infections for the rest of their lives.
However, the prime minister of Somalia has recently declared that their government is working towards establishing a law banning the practice of female genital mutilation. According to UNICEF, Somalia is a hotspot for FGM, where almost 98 percent of girls and women experience some form of FGM. This kind of political recognition from their central government is a crucial step forward for human rights within the country.
One might try to argue that some cultural groups practice FGM as a ritual, but when women are being held down on tables against their will, screaming in pain, it is a human rights violation. When children become traumatized for the rest of their lives, it is a human rights violation. FGM is most definitely a sickening human rights violation.
However, FGM is somehow still struggling to attract media attention in the international community. In the past, there has been little to no anti-FGM effort in areas where it is most prevalent, despite the fact that it technically goes against the Constitutions of countries such as Somalia. Most of these countries have frightening low capacities, meaning that their central governments are extremely weak and have little control over the rest of the country. Their ability to regulate may be defective and flawed, but the central effort is important in raising awareness.
When a country like Somalia, despite its known shortcomings, calls attention to such an overshadowed issue, the international community notices. Somalia might not have the capacity to effectively deal with the problem, but this central effort might encourage the international community to take initiative.
Imagine your own mother forcing you to go through a procedure like FGM. That is what happened to Aisha, and what continues to happen all over the world. FGM thrives because of fear; fear of being stigmatized, fear of being outcasted, and the fear of being seen as promiscuous. For many generations, FGM has been seen in many cultures as a way to protect families, however, it does quite the opposite.
The Somali government’s efforts have the potential to empower the women and children whom FGM directly affects. Hopefully, this new political recognition can finally attract the media, who can encourage victims to speak out about this outrageous human rights violation, and consequentially pressure the governments of other countries to take action.
“A Step Forward on FGM”, by Lindsay Crouse. NY Times. https://kristof.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/04/13/a-step-forward-on-fgm/?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FFemale%20Genital%20Cutting&action=click&contentCollection=health®ion=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collection
“Female Genital Mutilation”, by The World Health Organization Staff. The World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs241/en/
“3 Survivors Reveal the Brutal Reality of Female Genital Mutilation”, by Heather Wood Rudolph. Cosmopolitan Magazine. http://www.cosmopolitan.com/lifestyle/advice/a6504/female-genital-mutilation-survivor-stories/