FGM: A Multifarious Practice Deeply Ingrained in Somalia

FGM: A Multifarious Practice Deeply Ingrained in Somalia

On 20 December 2019 at the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, a couple was convicted of one count of the female genital mutilation (FGM) of their one-year-old daughter at an address in Dublin in September 2016, as well as one count of child cruelty relating to the same incident. During the hearing carried out in November, the court heard that the woman, from Somalia, had also been victim to the same practice as a child. Ms. Justice Elma Sheahan has postponed sentencing until 27 January 2020 to allow consideration of evidence in the case.


FGM generally takes three forms, it involves the excision of the clitoris (Type 1), excision of the clitoris and labia (Type 2) or stitching (infibulation) of the labia and removal of the clitoris (Type 3 also known as “Pharaonic Circumcision”). The health issues caused particularly by Type 3 FGM are profound: frequently carried out by “traditional” practitioners in unhygienic surroundings, it can, according to UNICEF, lead to the “entire gamut of medical complications, including: tetanus infection leading to death; severe bleeding during the procedure and later during deinfibulation; complications during childbirth; inability to urinate; septicemia, sometimes leading to death; severe muscle contractions; and difficulties in breathing”. This is to say nothing of the profoundly damaging mental health implications of mutilating and inflicting agonising pain on girls. Furthermore, within communities with precarious access to healthcare and strained or non-existent public health systems, FGM compounds problems for healthcare professionals struggling to cope with already heavy workloads. It is, therefore, a profound public health problem, as well as a women’s rights issue.


The prevalence of FGM within Somalia is staggering with an estimated 90-98 per cent of girls between the ages of 4 and 11 victim to some form of the practice with nearly 80 per cent undergoing Type 3. It is broadly representative, then, of the relegation of women within Somali culture to second class citizens where a patrilineal clan system (Qabil) rooted in pastoralist culture orders society. For instance, under Somali customary law (Xeer), the life of a woman is worth half that of a man in terms of blood compensation (Diya). Similarly, a woman’s opinion is worth half that of a man’s in a traditional assembly (Shir) or mediation. These attitudes are borne out in the horrific violence women are subjected to by security forces and civilians alike, with rape and beating of women proliferating and even punitive stonings, sometimes for being raped, not uncommon. Furthermore, Somalia has an overwhelming majority Sufi Muslim population. It is, for the most part, a place where “the veil is lightly worn” and a pragmatic interpretation of Islam sits sometimes uneasily alongside customary laws and practices. Moreover, while FGM is frequently justified as a religious practice preserving the purity of women, it is, in reality, an extremely resilient customary practice which predates the conception and arrival to the Horn of Africa of Islam. While it is most prevalent within Somalia, FGM is also extant to varying degrees in the rest of the Horn of Africa, for instance, majority Christian Ethiopia. As such, despite the fractious relationship of the various populations within the region framed around religious conflict, it exposes deep cultural linkages between the Cushitic peoples inhabiting the Horn.


While FGM, then, is practised mainly in majority Muslim countries and is frequently framed as a Muslim issue, it is also extant in Christian and Jewish (specifically in Ethiopia) populations as well as Central and Western Africa, parts of the Middle East and South-East Asia. While some references to male circumcision within Islamic texts are regularly and incorrectly employed as justifications for the practice, significantly, it is neither required nor prohibited by the Quran or the Bible, rather, it is tellingly not mentioned in either text.  Attempts to square this theological circle are indicative of the resilience of the practice and, consequently, demonstrative of why contemporary efforts to advocate against the practice are slow to drive change.


Within Somalia, advocacy groups struggle against the weight of custom, tradition and superstition. Nonetheless, some degree progress has been made especially within urban areas with some turning away from Type 3 FGM and resorting to less harmful, albeit still extremely problematic, versions of FGM. Fewer still have outright stopped the practice. Furthermore, there has been a moral realignment amongst politicians who recently have begun to advocate against the practice. However, unsurprisingly, there is some reluctance to discuss female reproductive issues in the male-dominated, overwhelmingly Muslim country’s legislatures. Despite this, the semi-autonomous Somali region of Puntland’s parliament passed an anti-FGM bill in 2011 and the practice is specifically prohibited by the 2012 Somali constitution. However, startlingly, the practice has not actually been criminalised despite the best efforts of activists especially in the wake of the death in 2018 of a ten-year-old girl in rural Somalia, named Deeqa, who bled to death after being taken to a “traditional cutter” by her mother. Of course, Somalia, which is a fragile state riddled by insecurity, intra-state conflict and concurrent complex humanitarian emergencies has limited capacity to project power even within urban areas. As a result, any movement to enshrine laws against the practice are, realistically, nominal.


In the Irish context, Ifrah Ahmed, a Somali-born Irish citizen, who founded the Ifrah Foundation, has become a powerful voice globally in the anti-FGM movement and has done invaluable work spreading awareness and advocating against the practice. She has even returned to Somalia to campaign against FGM, a journey not without its dangers given endemic insecurity and prevailing attitudes towards women. Ifrah Ahmed and other anti-FGM campaigners, then, face a wicked problem; the causes of FGM are multifarious and the practice is deeply ingrained in Somalia, however, progress is being made albeit slowly. Moreover, if Somalia’s institutions and security situation continue to stabilise and improve, as has been the case over the last ten years, and the country wishes to improve its image for donors and stakeholders by presenting a modernising face to the world, progress can be made.


If you have been touched by this article or would like to find out more, you can contact the Ifrah Foundation


Photo of Ifrah Ahmed by AMISOM Public Information




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New Year, Same Brexit Headache

Brexit day is fast approaching, with the UK on track to officially leave the European Union in less than two weeks. In this article in our Brexit series, Rachel gives us an update on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill and the future of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

FGM: A Multifarious Practice Deeply Ingrained in Somalia

While FGM is frequently justified as a religious practice preserving the purity of women, it is, in reality, an extremely resilient customary practice which predates the conception and arrival to the Horn of Africa of Islam.

Students in Action: A Stem of Hope for Sinead

Shauna Costello, a Coolock native, is currently trying to raise €50,000 for her Aunt Sinead who is suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS). MS is a continuous, immune-mediated disorder which means that the disease causes your immune system to attack the healthy parts of your body that are imperative to a functioning body. As a result, the spinal and brain cords can decline.

Queen of England going “fur-free” is a step in the right direction

We’ve learnt it from Angela Kelly, Senior Dresser of Queen Elizabeth II of England: The Queen is going fur-free. By “going faux”, The Queen is setting a strong example and sending a powerful message, encouraging an ethical fashion trend that we should all follow. But we have mixed feelings about the lack of coherence between the Country’s statements about fur.

Why Ireland should have its own Green New Housing Deal

Last week, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez brought the ‘Green New Deal for Public Housing Act’ to US congress. Our contributor Lyndsay Walsh explains why we need an Irish Green New Housing Act.

Climate change: when will we acknowledge our privilege?

The truth about the climate crisis rarely reaches outside a certain cohort of people and often you have to seek this truth for yourself.

FemFest 2019: Women’s inequality should come with a mental health warning

FemFest 2019: Women’s inequality should come with a mental health warning

“Any one of you can become leaders, and can lead the change needed to bring about a feminist Ireland”

– Siobhan McSweeney


The National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) hosted their fifth annual FemFest Saturday, November 30th in Dublin’s City Centre. Women between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five were invited to freely participate and unite in various workshops, panel discussions and listen to guest speakers. The event succeeded in empowering the future voices of our society, to continue pushing to implement change across all fields of adversity.

Following Director of NWCI Orla O’Connor, the day kicked off with a terrific key-note address from Derry Girls’ very own Siobhan McSweeney. Her opening address acknowledged the different types of women in attendance or simply existing, highlighting the theme of leadership, solidarity and inclusivity. 

The panels were diverse and the topics ranged from ableism in activism, to experiences of direct provision, back to the fundamental meaning of what feminism means to you. Owodunni Ola Mustapha (Ballyhaunis Inclusion Project) spoke of her current experience in direct provision with her children and the lack of independence, privacy and personal development that comes with it. Ola delivered her speech proudly and emotionally, thankful for the support she has received in Ireland but also determined to continue speaking out and unite other suffering asylum seekers. Renowned Irish author Louise O’Neill (Asking for It, Only Ever Yours) discussed her personal struggle with body image and eating disorders, amplified by social roles placed upon her in the media. Journalist Roe McDermott added to the mental health discussion, expressing distaste for the problematic efforts to have vulnerable people reach out to a society that has not been equipped with the tools to adequately reach back. Similar to workshops later in the day, the panel also explored the lack of sufficient sex education in Irish schools, a problem all too real even in 2019. Their varied and multi-cultural perspectives delved headfirst into current issues women face today, prompting discussion among attendees throughout the day.

I attended the workshops on Healthy and Unhealthy Relationships and Breaking Period Stigma.  During the first session, Facilitator Dr Hayley Mulligan explored our ideas of healthy practice in romantic relationships, how they first tend to manifest in friendships, and how to acknowledge that red flags aren’t warning signs, but the problem themselves. During the second workshop, Charlotte Amrouche, the founder of the Míosta project, explored period stigma within ourselves and others. We looked at reusable eco-friendly period products and came up with proactive solutions to menstrual challenges. Both workshops were under time constraints, which left them cut slightly short, but were invaluable all the same. Facilitators also acknowledged the importance of reaching beyond our feminist circles for education and engagement with these issues within the wider community.  

Following lunch at the Radisson Blu Hotel, drag artist Avoca Reaction performed female power anthems, evoking a positive reaction within us all. The second panel of the day included Keeva Lilith Carroll, who works as the national community development officer with the Transgender Equality Network of Ireland, and Eleanor Walsh, member of disabled women Ireland. Eleanor spoke about her experience as an autistic woman, who just by being a woman, doesn’t fit the perceived identity of a person with autism, labelled and categorised in society in more ways than one. Criticising the criticism of “armchair activism” (signing petitions online, sharing articles, donating to an NGO), she highlighted the ableist superiority complex of those who believe protest and arrests are the only adequate methods of resistance. To close she left the room with a thought-provoking statement regarding accessibility, inclusivity and equality that resonates with all hopeful change-makers: 

“Next time you’re at a meeting, or an event, look around the room to see who’s there, and see who isn’t.”


 Photo by Niamh Elliott-Sheridan


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FGM: A Multifarious Practice Deeply Ingrained in Somalia

While FGM is frequently justified as a religious practice preserving the purity of women, it is, in reality, an extremely resilient customary practice which predates the conception and arrival to the Horn of Africa of Islam.

The 6th of January: Women’s Christmas

The tradition of celebrating Nollaig na mBan is particularly associated with the West of Ireland and it seems to have originated as a reward for all of the hard work by women of doing the cooking, cleaning and organising of Christmas festivities.

STAND Women: 2019 in Review

Women make up roughly 50% of our global population but still face significant human rights challenges, including some which are less visible but equally damaging such as gender bias in institutions like the media. Cassie, our Women’s Section Editor, reminds us of the women’s rights issues that were important to us in 2019.

The Prevalence of “Lad Culture” and Toxic Attitudes in Ireland

Despite progressive changes occurring throughout Ireland in this decade, findings exploring attitudes towards gender equality and domestic abuse in Ireland has proven the prevalence of toxic attitudes in young men. Ireland’s young women are still facing catcalling, sexist remarks and attitudes from peers, among other serious and intimidating behaviours.

FemFest 2019: Women’s inequality should come with a mental health warning

The National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) hosted their fifth annual FemFest on Saturday, November 30th in Dublin’s City Centre. Women between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five were invited to freely participate and unite in various workshops, panel discussions and listen to guest speakers. The event succeeded in empowering the future voices of our society, to continue pushing to implement change across all fields of adversity.

Book Review: “Yes, We Still Drink Coffee!”

“Yes, We Still Drink Coffee!” is a collection of powerful essays, interspersed with beautiful illustrations, that tell the stories of female human rights defenders from Egypt, Kuwait, Palestine, Tunisia, Turkey, Somalia and Sudan. Behind each story is a meeting of two women. Here is our review.

The hijab, niqab, burqa and other coverings.

The hijab, niqab, burqa and other coverings.

There are different types of covering worn by Muslim women all around the world. Most recognised coverings are burqa, hijab and niqab, but they all are different from each other. They are worn to symbolise culture and religious faith.

This is a rectangular scarf, which is loosely wrapped around the head and pinned or tugged near the neck. The extra part is placed at the shoulder.

This is generally described as the head-scarves worn by Muslim women. Hijabs come in different colours and designs. It is generally worn to cover the head and neck, leaving the face open.

The Al-Amira is a two piece veil, that wraps tightly around the head.

A khimar is a long cape like veil, which hangs down the shoulder up to the waist. It covers the head, neck and shoulder leaving the face.

The Chador is a long cloak, that covers the whole body but leaves the face open. A smaller scarf is often worn underneath, to cover the head.

A niqab is a veil, that covers a women from head to foot, leaving the eyes clear. It is accompanied with a head-scarf which covers the head and neck. It can also be worn with a separate eye veil.

This is the most concealing veils of all Islamic dresses. It is a single long piece that covers the whole body, with a mesh screen on the face to see through.



Top photo by Imat Bagja Gumilar on Unsplash


Changing the discussion on sexual violence

Changing the discussion on sexual violence

Is sexual violence during war a gender or security issue? Deepthi Suresh investigates. 

Feminist scholarship on sexual violence during peacetime changed the way we talk about rape, making it a matter of public concern. Instead of a side effect or armed conflict, rape was seen as an integral part of the war time power struggle. This had important implications to the way we discuss rape that occurs outside armed conflict. Sexual violence is a form of social power, characterized by the gender power relations. Under feminist scholarship, rape became a politically charged discussion.

Then how do we assess wartime sexual violence?
Sara Meger has put forward the idea that, “Security approach to sexual violence unintentionally produces its fetishisation and that this process undermines efforts to address sexual violence”.

This fetishisation has directed policy towards security and protection, rather than addressing underlying attitudes.

The securitisation of sexual violence, therefore, has placed gender-based violence within the “high politics” of international security according to Sara Meger. By accepting that  gender-based violence committed in armed conflict is an inevitable consequence, it fits into traditional security paradigms. This understanding of gender-based violence somehow has lured policy makers into a fantasy of gender equity but in reality, only obscures the structures that may be the root causes of wartime sexual violence. By focusing instead on increasing security, we ignore the power structures that are vital to understanding rape

Why is feminist inquiry into sexual violence important?
Feminist inquiry certainly brought in a new mode of critical explanation that addressed issues of domestic violence and sexual violence both during wartime and peacetime. This non-conventional explanation recognised it as a political phenomenon. It also laid emphasis on gendered tropes and justifications that exist around why rapes exist.

Feminist researchers brought into the limelight evidence of brutal acts of sexual violence and strategic choices made by the perpetrators such as rape camps, genital mutilations, sexual torture, brutal accounts of soldiers who have perpetrators themselves, perpetrators who have been authority figures such as police officers and UN peacekeepers etc.

They also brought in enough empirical evidence on lack of intervention by agencies, the depiction of rape in popular media and by news agencies, the falsification of actual cases of rape in a particular place by international agencies or Non-governmental organisations etc. as well as the demand for an international collaboration to end rape.


Photo via Flickr.

Cameras in a war zone

Cameras in a war zone

Shivangi Dayal looks at the inspiring women who work hard to cover humanitarian crises around the world.

Alice Schalek (1874-1956)
She was an Austrian journalist, photographer, writer and public speaker. During the First World War, Schalek worked hard to get accredited as a war correspondent by the Kriegspressequartier (War Press Office) in 1915. Her first war assignment was at the alpine front in South Tyro. In 1917, Schalek received a decoration Goldenes Verdienstkreuz mit der Krone for her media coverage.

Camille Lepage (1988-2014)
Lepage started her career as a French photojournalist at a very early age, working independently in Egypt, South Sudan and Central Africa. She covered stories about the conflicts in Central African Republic. While covering conflict in the Central Africa Republic, Lepage was killed.

Lynsey Addario (1973 – Present)
Born in Connecticut (United States), Addario is an American photojournalist. Her work is a mixture of human rights issues and conflicts focusing the role of women in traditional societies. Addario traveled to Afghanistan to document the life of women living under the Taliban before 2001. She has covered almost every humanitarian crisis of her generation,  including conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Lebanon and South Sudan. American Photo Magazine named her one of the five most influential photographers of the past 25 years in 2015.

Photo by Bimo Luki on Unsplash

The importance of female photographers

The importance of female photographers

In this competitive world no platform is left untouched from sexism. To provide female photographers with a platform, photographer Daniella Zalcman launched a website that promotes the work of 400 women from more than 67 different countries.

Through this website Zalcman values female photographers and their importance in the professional world. According to her, there is something different about female photographers that makes their work unique.

Why are female photographers important?
Good journalism is about sharing stories, stories coming from different people from different parts of the world that every individual has his or her own vision of capturing. Similarly, every female photographer holds her own genre of writing and story telling. They should be given equal opportunity.

How is a female photographer’s perspective different from others?
Women tend to be more sensitive and dedicated to long- form personal narration. They fill stories with emotions and build strong bonds with the subject. Nevertheless, there are incredible male social documentary photography and amazing female war photographers, it’s hard to differentiate and highlight what exactly female photographers are strong in.

Is there sexism in photojournalism?
The comparison between men and women photographers is too much when it comes to the photography world. Men believe they need to impart wisdom onto female photographers. There are also explicit acts of sexual harassment that occurs on regular basis which make female photographers change their decision and interest.

How can this change?
Efforts are needed in order to understand people and their stories. It’s important to give equal opportunities and share as many stories as possible. It is not about male and female but about information, story telling, reaching out to people. We need to improve our thought process.

This website by Daniella Zalcman is a stage where female photographers tell stories through a photo journalistic approach. It not only showcase their talent but also empowers them.

Photo by Ari He on Unsplash