Politics and Society
Somaliland is using a religious fatwa to outlaw female genital mutilation
The Ministry of Religious Affairs in Somaliland has issued a fatwa, or religious edict, banning female genital mutilation. This is preparing the region for the passing of legislation that will finally outlaw the practice altogether.
The fatwa states that anyone who performs female genital mutilation (FGM) will face punishment, and the victims of this practice will be eligible for compensation. It did not, however, provide details on the severity of punishment, or the amount of compensation.
“It’s forbidden to perform any circumcision that is contrary to the religion and involves cutting and sewing up, like the pharaoh circumcision, the ministry’s fatwa reads. “Any girl who suffers from pharaoh circumcision will be eligible for compensation, depending on the extent of the wound and the violation caused. Any one proven to be performing the practice will receive punishment depending on the extent of the violation.”
FGM is almost universal in the self-declared republic of Somaliland, a breakaway region of Somalia. In fact, this Horn of Africa nation has the world’s highest rate of FGM, according to the United Nations. The UN reports that an estimated 98 percent of Somali females aged 15 to 49 have undergone the procedure.
Read: Together, We Can Stop FGM
Responses to the edict
Many top-ranking officials have come out in support of the fatwa and what it means for Somali girls and women. One official, the Minister of Religious Affairs, Sheikh Khalil Abdullahi Ahmed, hailed the fatwa. In a statement he said, “It was a problem that was ignored – by religious scholars as well as society. Its victim was the young child who does not have the power to protect herself. Today we stood up for our girls. This cruel act of circumcision is a crime from today.”
Somaliland’s Minister of Social Affairs and Labour, Hinda Jama, welcomed the fatwa. She told Voice of Africa, “Today we reached the pinnacle. We thank the religious scholars. I say, let us implement it and let us legislate a Bill,” she said. “We will be watchful for anyone who performs the cutting of a young girl. We will set up neighborhood watches to implement the ruling.”
Ayan Mahamoud, Somaliland’s representative in Britain, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, “The reason that this harmful practice has existed for so long is that people believe it is because our religion or culture dictates that we should do it.” She added, “The fatwa is basically a message from the government to everyone in Somaliland that there is no religious or cultural basis for FGM.”
Read: FGM in 2018: Should women be allowed to voluntarily practice it and ‘uphold tradition’?
Women’s rights activist Edna Adan, who has fought to end FGM in Somaliland, welcomed the move but said the struggle was not over yet. “It took us 42 years to reach this day, but this is not the end of the battle,” she tweeted. “FGM must be completely eradicated in my country and everywhere in the world.”
Ifrah Ahmed, the founder of the Mogadishu-based Ifrah Foundation, which combats FGM, told Voice of Africa that the steps the government has taken towards forbidding FGM make her optimistic for a better future. “I hope [in] the next 10 years Somalia will eradicate FGM; not just reduce it, but stop the practice altogether,” she said.