Religious leaders as allies to end FGM

11 April 2017

Somaliland scholars dispel the myth that FGM is a religious requirement

FGM is one of the most severe human rights violations and forms of violence against women. Somaliland has one of the highest rates of FGM at about 99.8% (NAFIS assessment Report, 2014). FGM has long and short term physical and psychological implications for girls and women, and it may lead to infertility and even death. For the last 25 years, the Somaliland government and its partners, including civil society organisations, have addressed FGM in different ways, covering health, human rights and social aspects. These efforts have led to anti-FGM laws that criminalise the practice. Although these laws are an important first step, ending FGM will require more than legislation.

In Somaliland, there is still a deep belief among the community that FGM has its roots not only in local culture, but also in Islamic doctrine. This places religious leaders in positions of authority because of their ability to reach different levels of society. In recent years, a number of religious leaders dialogue meetings have been organised to foster debates among sheikhs (leaders of a Muslim community), with the goal of encouraging an end to FGM in Somaliland. Since 2016, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has collaborated with local organisations to put pressure on religious leaders to help end FGM. The government has also committed to hosting national dialogue meetings for religious leaders, with the aim of them agreeing a clear position on FGM.

The Girl Generation recognises that for FGM to end, social change - a transformation of culture and social institutions over time – is required, and that this process must be locally led. We recognise that there are several stages to achieving social change, and that this change can take time. Once a community (in this case, the community of religious leaders) has acknowledged an issue of concern, this needs to be adressed through dialogue: a collective, organised effort to assess and agree upon the problem, and determine a course of action. Collective action is then required to take forward the plan.

In all of the countries we work, we track the strength of the social movement to end FGM. Social movements are forms of collective action that emerge in response to situations of inequality, oppression and/or unmet social, political, economic or cultural demands. Currently, Somaliland’s social movement is at coalescence stage, marked by constituents coming together, leadership emerging, getting organised and formulating a shared strategy.

The religious leaders dialogues is an example of this process in action. A notable development in 2017 was the development of a fatwa (a ruling on a point of Islamic law) against FGM, supported and led by the Ministry of Religious Affairs. A meeting between 12 prominent sheikhs and the Ministry of Religion produced the fatwa, and they have agreed to get the fatwa realised. This process is led by a selected committee of five sheikhs. If the fatwa is effected in 2017, this will be the first of its kind in Somaliland.

The Girl Generation is fully committed to ending all forms of FGM, and we will continue to promote this principle in our work in Somaliland. We recognise that the pathways to change are complex and can take time, and we value all efforts to promote dialogue, debate and consensus building that will help promote social change towards ending FGM.

In spite of this challenge, there have been positive results from the dialogues. They have influenced the narrative around FGM, helping to correct the erroneous belief that it is a religious obligation, among other myths and misconceptions. So far, a great number of scholars serve as effective end-FGM advocates, educating community members not only on the non-religious grounds of the practice, but also on its harmful effects on Somali women and girls.

In Somaliland, religious leaders have become a symbolic and compelling force for ending FGM, and we hope that through ongoing dialogue and engagement, they reach consensus on recognising the harms of all forms of FGM.

One of the religious leaders’ dialogue meetings held in Hargeisa

 

High Official Authorities of Ministry of Religious Affairs (from middle, standing: former DG Mr. Abdulahi, Minister of Religion; Mr Sheikh Khaliil Abdilahi Ahmed, left side next to DG, and other Heads of Departments of the Ministry of Religious Affairs) in one of the dialogue meetings in Hargeisa.

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