Somaliland: Against genital mutilation
In the Republic of Somaliland, 98 percent of women and girls are affected by genital mutilation. The goal is to reduce the number of circumcisions of girls and young women through education.Learn more
"My name is Khadra Jama Duale. I worked as a circumciser for 20 years and inflicted genital mutilation on very many girlswithout medical supervision. Many of them screamed like mad, many of them almost bled to death or suffered from severe infections. Today I say from the bottom of my heart: No, I don't want to continue this work!"
Text: Christiane Dase, Hodan Abdi Ali, Hodan Ibrahim Osman, Gunhild Aiyub, photos: Mustafa Saeed, Fairpicture
Khadra Jama Duale is 45 years old and lives in Somaliland, an autonomous region in northern Somalia. People there live mainly by farming and raising livestock, which is hampered by recurring droughts. Malnutrition and low income are the consequences. 73 percent of the population is considered poor, 43 percent even extremely poor. Infectious diseases are widespread, and the level of education is low.
With no schooling, no husband to provide for the family, and seven children - one son has a severe disability - Khadra had to struggle to keep them all alive. She became a circumciser for girls and women. This profession had the advantage that she didn't need expensive instruments: a razor blade, needle and thread, and the equipment was ready. Even medical training for this cruel work was not required - for decades, circumcisers have been passing on their knowledge to other women.
Somaliland has one of the world's highest rates of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) at 98 percent. This archaic tradition is meant to ensure that girls remain "pure" until they are married off. The United Nations classified FGM as a human rights violation as early as 1992. In February 2018, the Ministry of Religious Affairs in Somaliland issued an edict banning the worst form of Female Genital Mutilation.
Three forms are distinguished: Type 1 and 2 provide for parts of the clitoris and labia to be cut off. In type 3, the labia and clitoris are cut off completely and sewn shut except for a small opening. The decree was directed only against the last form. The ministry could not decide on a law against FGM as a whole. Women's initiatives and all those working for human rights in the country continue to fight for the abolition and punishment of all FGM, because it is a human rights violation in any case.
"I did it the way it's always been done," Khadra says. "People just picked the children out and then mutilated them. That was normal for us. There were even girls who came to me on their own and said, 'I want to be circumcised just like my best friend.' They thought this procedure was something good, and they wanted to be part of it. But there were also girls who got scared and ran away."
For 20 years, Khadra practiced her profession. Countless girls suffer a lifetime of physical and mental anguish because of women like her. The screams, the tears, the health consequences did not leave Khadra cold, but it was now tradition in her culture, who was she to change it? And she had to think about her paralyzed son Hamse, who had no one else but her, she needed the income. But then something happened - an operation went worse than usual. For the first time, Khadra questioned her profession. "A little girl was brought to me," she recounts in a faltering voice. "As requested by the family, I mutilated her genitals. The girl became seriously ill, getting infections and even tetanus. The wound just didn't heal, and she had severe seizures." She looks down at her hands. "The girl struggled forever to survive. Today she is disabled."
The family accused Khadra of having made a mistake. The circumciser was in very bad health, unable to sleep properly for nights on end. It was then that she first thought about quitting: "There was blood on my hands for years," the 45-year-old says quietly, "I was doing bad things. I thought about what to do." She raises her head and says in a firm voice, "Finally, I made a decision: I quit!"
She and other circumcisers received a visit from the organization Candlelight. The Kindernothilfe partner has been fighting FGM in Somalia since 2013. The staff explained to the women the medical context of the cruel mutilation and the lifelong suffering of those affected and convinced them to give up their profession. And they helped them get back on their feet professionally. After all, the women were now out of work and desperately needed a source of income. Candlelight provided support and training. Khadra received a sewing machine with which she could start her own business.
In the meantime, she can live very well from her work as a seamstress. With what is left over from her earnings, she has also entered the charcoal trade. And she even attends school. "I'm doing much better than before. I can afford good food. I'm blessed by God now. I never want to have anything to do with genital mutilation again. I was stupid and ignorant before. Through Candelight, I know what I did to others, and I pass on my knowledge."
Khadra is now an ambassador against FGM, educating everyone in her neighbourhood, friends and acquaintances who have young daughters. She warns, "Hands off circumcisions!" She also explains to them that Islam does not require this procedure at all, as most people believe. Many listen to her and actually decide against it. "I understood that what I did for years was bad. I have come to peace now. I'm grateful to God that I don't have blood on my hands anymore."