Circumcised mothers wish to spare daughters the pain of FGMPhoto | Naciimo Cabduqaadir iyo walaasheed Ceyni oo ku faraxsan inaan loo gudin fircooni /Faaduma Taxadar/Ergo
Sahra Osman, 35, remembers very clearly the day she was circumcised as an 11 year old. The sun was scorching over their village near Jowhar. The woman who cut her carried a simple kit made up of a used razor blade, some thorns for needles, and a piece of rope for tying her legs.
“Until now, I remember it all so vividly. I was cut up with the razor badly while my mother and two other women neighbours were holding me down by the shoulders,” Sahra told Radio Ergo. “Every time I experienced my monthly periods, the blood could not get out and I used to become sick and suffer from infections. Words cannot explain the pain I went through because of FGM,” she said.
Sahra, who lives in Bossaso, now has four daughters and four sons. But she is still suffering from the pain of FGM. “It is a life time punishment,” she said. Many times during her marriage, she tried to run away from her house and her husband because of the persistent pain and distress caused by the circumcision. She said marriage had been a disappointment and she had never enjoyed sexual intercourse with her husband.
The worst memory was the first night after their marriage. “When I got married, my husband penetrated me by force opening up the place where I was stitched. All I felt was pain and suffering,” she said.
The same pain was inflicted on her with every childbirth. “When I deliver a baby, several places of my private part are cut open. Then it takes months before it heals and I can hardly even sit.”
Nasra Habeb Yusuf is a gynecologist at Tawakal Medical Centre in Nairobi’s Eastleigh Estate. She explains that FGM causes severe physiological and health problems in women. “FGM causes infection, bleeding, fistula during childbirth and difficult experiences when blood flow is blocked during menstrual periods,” Nasra said. Women also suffer related symptoms of anxiety and depression.
FGM is widely practiced among the Somali community and involves the removal of the clitoris and labia and stitching up of the vulva. The United Nations banned the practice called infibulation in 2012. However, despite many years of awareness campaigns involving religious clerics stating that this is a violation of women and contrary to Islamic teachings, 95 per cent of girls in Somalia aged four to 11 are still subjected to FGM, according to UNICEF.
However, Sahra Osman has decided not to subject her own four daughters aged between five and 12 to the pain she has suffered. Her husband, Abduqadir Ahmed Mohamed, has supported her in this. They have circumcised their daughters in what is called the sunna way, meaning the removal of the clitoral prepuce only.
“If my daughters do not experience the same pain I have been going through, I will be happy with that above all else,” Sahra said.
Her 12-year-old daughter Naimo, who sat beside her mother during the Radio Ergo interview, said she was very happy about her parents’ decision which saved her from FGM. She said she heard from her friends of the pain and discomfort of FGM, especially during their monthly period. “Some of them don’t come out of their houses for days,” said Nimo.
Abduqadir made the decision to support Sahra because he had seen the negative impact FGM has had on his wife. It strained their relationship on many occasions. He realized also that the practice had no basis in Islam. Still, it has not been easy facing the criticism of others. “They ask me, why have you not circumcised your daughters the same way girls have always been circumcised? That is what people ask us, but, we tell them that the Islamic religion is against FGM,” he said.
Somali Sheikh Abdirahman Hussein Issa believes that FGM violates women’s rights. “If a girl is mutilated and she consequently dies, the person who circumcised her in that manner should be forced to pay compensation,” Sheikh Abdirahman said. “The Islamic religion doesn’t permit anything that puts the health of a person in danger.”
Somalia’s Minister for Women and Human Rights, Sahra Mohamed Ali, told Radio Ergo a law was being drafted to FGM in Somalia. The law would stipulate punishment for those practising FGM. “To fight a long time practice is not easy; it needs a written law which must be implemented,” the minister said.
The legal ban will find favour with many Somali women who find it unthinkable to impose the pain they experienced on their own daughters.
“The first night of my marriage, I was opened up with a razor,” said Luul Mohamed, 50, mother of several children.
“When I was about to deliver my first baby, my private parts had to be cut open in three different places; that has caused me a major injury. My life has been a cycle of having my body cut open and then stitched back up again.”
Four of Luul’s daughters were circumcised the sunna way.
Meanwhile, doctors hope to sensitize more men to the problems of FGM and are encouraging them to bring their wives for surgical removal of FGM stitches prior to martial intercourse.
Every month, around 40 women come with their husbands to Tawakal Medical Centre in Nairobi. Nasra Habeb has seen terrible suffering.
“The worst case scenario was a woman who was brought to us one night during this month bleeding profusely; we thought she was undergoing a miscarriage. But her husband told us that they had been married for just a month and he tried to penetrate her by force to open the stitches. This caused her to split from her vagina to her anus. We really come across cases you cannot imagine,” Nasra said.