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MOGADISHU, Somalia — “I used to circumcise young girls and babies as a source of income to support my family, but I have realized now that Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) is a harmful practice, and I have completely stopped it,” declares a Somali woman who now advocates for abandonment of the practice.

The cultural subordination of Somali women and girls amid the current unrest and conflict bring them at increased risk of violence, and health-related complications as basic healthcare services are lacking. “Over the last decades, Somalia has turned into the worst place for women and girls to live” adds Dr. Maryam Qasim, Minister of Human Development and Public Services.

FGM/C is one of those entrenched local practices that compromise the health of women and girls. It takes place in many communities in Somalia; 98% of women and girls have undergone FGM/C in the country. The efforts to abandon the practice have faced religious opposition due to public perceptions that the practice is rooted in Islam.

Changing course of FGM/C in local communities

However, the tides are turning in Somalia due to the fact that the public perception is slowly changing and the support of the abandonment of FGM/C is spreading across the local communities.

Community engagement through education and dialogues conducted under the joint UNICEF and UNFPA Partnership involving the local community authorities, traditional and religious leaders, youth, parents and the practitioners have significantly assisted in the reduction of the practice in Somalia.

“We will continue to support the successful community dialogues with the practitioners and religious leaders aiming to continue reducing the practice,” says Mr. Cheikh T. Cisse, UNFPA Representative for Somalia.

Sheikhs speaking out on FGM/C

FGM/C is no longer a taboo in the country and policy-makers, including prominent Sheiks, are actively advocating for the abandonment of the practice which have resulted in over 300 community declarations on zero tolerance against FGM/C.

Imam Sheikh Abdirizak Hussein of Mogadishu had watched his daughter and other women and girls undergo the practice and consequently suffer from haemorrhage and other bodily and psychological traumas. “Many Somalis are Muslims and will accept and obey the preaching of the Koran. As religious leader we must correct the beliefs that FGM/C is rooted in Islam and have a common stand that does not permit FGM/C.”

Government to create work opportunities for FMG/C practitioners

In the Somali context affected by conflict and unrest, the FGM/C practitioners have used the financial gains of the practice to sustain the livelihood of their family. As the reduction of the practice is rapidly spreading, the Somalia Government is planning to create work opportunities to those practitioners known to perform the practice during the course of 2014 – as a way to compensate for the loss of income from the FGM/C practice.