Pandemic Lockdowns Lead to Rise in Female Genital Mutilation in Somaliland

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) cases are increasing in Somaliland, a de facto African state that struggles for international recognition. Pandemic lockdowns fuel the increase in FGM cases. Government officials, health workers, and advocates say FGM cases are soaring since the lockdown made girls accessible to “cutters.”

Safia Ibrahim, a “cutter” woman who performs the barbaric act of genital mutilation, has taken advantage of the lockdown. Since she’s sure that girls are at home, Ibrahim has been going door-to-door, asking parents, “Have your daughters been cut?

Ibrahim offers female circumcision services, a practice she learned at age 15 and has been practicing for 35 years. She’s also showing the trade to her daughters, passing down not just the business but a barbaric practice that has left hundreds of women in Africa scarred.

In January 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a statement affirming the harm caused by FGM and its lack of medical or health benefits. According to the WHO, FGM “involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injuries to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”

Using the palm of a female translator, Ibrahim performed her procedure for the Associated Press (AP). Ibrahim held a syringe just above the skin, pretending to administer anesthetics, a recent addition to her practice. With a blade, “she swiped at where the girl’s clitoris would be” and slashed the labia off, AP reported. “Finally, with needles and thread, she pretended to sew up the girl’s opening, leaving a small hole for urine and the menstrual blood,” AP’s report added.

Sadia Allin, director for the Plan International, a Somalian nongovernmental organization, said she was shocked when an FGM practitioner asked for her daughters to have them cut. The woman said, ‘I want to cut them,’ and that was the shock of my life,” Allin revealed.

“I did not expect that something like that can happen in this age and time because of the awareness and the work that we have been doing,” she added.

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in 2021, more than 4.2 million girls will be at risk of FGM across 25 different countries, including Somaliland. Because of the pandemic, “2 million more cases of FGM that could have otherwise been averted will occur over the next decade,” UNFPA added.

UNFPA also estimated that “98% of women and girls, aged 15-49, have undergone some form of FGM” across Somalia and Somaliland.

Edna Adan Ismail, Somaliland’s former first lady, is a staunch supporter of ending FGM practice. She was also the first woman to criticize FMG and its practitioners openly. She gave a fiery speech during the February 6 International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation.

Muse Bihi Abdi, President of Somaliland, said he wants to make FGM illegal. However, his plans are getting severe pushbacks from conservatives and religious authorities. Abdirizak Hussein Ali Albani, the Minister of the Religious Affairs of Somaliland, supports a milder version of FGM.

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