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A NOTE FROM THE WEBMASTER: “A group of young women has, in their email, criticized us “for not exposing the evil practice of female circumcision, Gudniika Gabdhaha,” or Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). But it seems these young ladies must have missed reading a well-documented TALKING POINT by M. M. Afrah on this controversial subject several years ago. Nevertheless, we are re-running the same article to thrill these young ladies, who said they are a group of Somali women activists in North America.”

Many African women groan whenever you mention words like female circumcision or infibulations. So I wondered why these words are very sensitive or taboo for many people in the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti), Egypt, Sudan, parts of Kenya and West Africa.

To garner an answer to that question I turned to Amina of Somalia and Lydia Gebre Selassie of Ethiopia whose families practiced the operation for generations, which they now describe as “disgusting” and “horrendous.”
“Whenever a mother refused or even questioned the need for the operation, that mother and her family are stigmatized and in some cases put to death,” Amina said.

“The circumcision of a girl before puberty is considered as sacred duty for her parents and the society as a whole,” added Lydia from Addis Ababa.

I gasped when I heard the way the operation is performed, not by doctors, but old traditional midwives wielding rusty knives, needles from thorn trees and dirty rugs, and of course, without anesthesia.

What the old midwife was to do is cut the clitoris and stitch the labia majore (outer sex organs) together, leaving a tiny opening for the flow of urine. Those who were lucky to survive the knife, the tiny opening is the worst nightmare because it takes eternity for the girl to complete her toilet—often very painful.

The horrendous story does not end there.

“But why do parents want their daughters to undergo this very dangerous operation?” I asked an elderly man in the Finch area who refused to have his two daughters Ayaan and Deeqa to be circumcised in a backroom in Metro Toronto.

“Islam does not sanction female genital mutilation, It is Pharaonic and therefore unlawful,” he said with strong conviction.

A nationwide survey jointly conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the defunct Somali Ministry of Health in the heydays of the ousted military dictator, Major-General Mohamed Siyad Barre, revealed that nearly half of the victims died of hemorrhage, while 30 per cent died at childbirth. The survey also noted that fewer married couples were living up to their vows, because the bridegroom discovered that his bride was not “properly” circumcised, according to tradition.

It transpired during litigation that the operation was transformed by a qualified doctor in a hospital in what was described as Sunna, which is more humane and less painful than the Pharaonic way.

General Barre, whose words were the law of the country, discouraged people from what he described as un-Islamic, and there was a surge of opinions, and at times heated debates that eventually led to fist fights in mosques throughout the country about the ritual. . Opponents argued that the practice is cruel, un-Islamic and damaging to the women’s sexual and reproductive health, while the traditionalists claimed the practice had protected women from what they consider excessive sexual desire, and also guarantees virginity.

“I went through three painful moments in my life: (a) during the actual operation (b) during intercourse, and (c) during childbirth,” said an old women currently living in Toronto’s Regent Park. She blames men in their desire to have a “completely sewed package” or money back as if the girl was a merchandize. She said the majority of Somali males view uncircumcised girl as “unclean”. She told me that was in Africa, where some vocal religious fanatics and traditionalists have strong grip on the society.
“But why anyone wants to continue this horrible practice in the Diaspora?” she asked.

To get an answer to that question I turned to a very knowledgeable community worker in Regent Park Community Health Center, which serves ethnic groups from the Horn of Africa. “Old habits die hard, especially with elderly people who frown whenever they hear girls should not be circumcised,” she said. She warns newcomers that it is against the law to mutilate genitals, which many of these elderly people believed were religious injunction, or obligation.

She regularly conducts a workshop at the Community Health Center, quoting sermons from well versed Imams and translations from the book “Sisters In Affliction” by a Somali woman in the 1980s when tempers on the ritual were running high in Somalia.

By M.M. Afrah©


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Ma Run mise Riyo - By Amiin Amir

The Centre for Research & Dialogue (CRD)
The Somali-Canadian Working Group for New Generation
Midaynta Association of Somali Service Agencies - Toronto

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