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Continuum of Care project: A story of change

Content note: This blog discusses female genital mutilation (FGM).
Some of the names in this blog have been changed.

In Somaliland, communities face challenges every day. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, these challenges became amplified. As the virus quickly spread, the Somaliland government enacted a lockdown that lasted for several months; all official, social, and community activities suddenly stopped. Schools and other educational institutions were closed. As a result, seven-year-old Nuura was staying at home helping her mother.
Nuura’s mother Ameena is a traditional woman from the Kulmiye community, part of the Erigavo district in Sanaag region. She has three children, Nuura’s brother and sister. Since Nuura is at home, just playing around with other kids, her mother thought that “this is the best time to do [female genital mutilation] to Nuura”. So, as is a common cultural practice in Somaliland, she followed traditional methods and did. Even though many government and non-governmental organizations are trying to stop FGM, girls ranging from four to 14 are still forced to undergo it.
A group of women sitting under a tree listening to a Somali Red Cross Society presenterThrough the Continuum of Care project, Aziza Abdikadir Hassan, Gender and Diversity Manager for the Somali Red Crescent Society has worked to train health officers and many community volunteers on various Protection Gender and Inclusion topics. One of the topics was awareness and community mobilization to prevent FGM.
“I personally believe that if we continue to carry out community awareness sessions to targeted communities, we will be able to save many young girls and women from FGM [and its] side effects,” Aziza said.
The training conducted for Somali Red Crescent Society staff and community volunteers covered all six regions of Somaliland who then carried out community awareness and behavioral change sessions targeting FGM in their own communities.
Ameena had never heard about the health risks and realities of FGM before. She didn’t know how much harm it could do to the daughter she loves.
“I [didn’t know about] FGM’s harm, complications and health side effects until volunteers came to my house and educated me on risk to my own kids. Now I am a regular participant of health information sessions and so thankful to our Somaliland Red Crescent volunteers,” Ameena said.
It’s challenging to change habits and practices for things as ingrained as FGM But, after several visits the volunteers succeeded in helping Nuura’s mother understand the dangers of FGM. She decided not to make her youngest daughter undergo the practice. Ameena has now become very active in the community awareness sessions of the negative impacts of FGM which Somali Red Crescent Society volunteers carried out in the Kulmiye community of Sanaag region of Somaliland.
There is a lot research that shows female genital mutilation negatively impacts the wellbeing of girls and women throughout their lives. While it’s important to engage healthcare workers in the prevention and management of FGM, healthcare systems don’t always have the capacity to tackle it.
Aziza is well aware of this, having worked with the Somaliland Ministry of Health Development focusing on gender, sexual and gender-based violence, and child protection. While she has been able to make concrete steps to reduce the use of FGM, she knows that there is still much more work to be done.
“We are also planning to help those girls at-risk by raising community awareness sessions focusing on upcoming school holidays,” Aziza said. “So, while thanking Canadian Red Cross and the Icelandic Red Cross for their support to date, we are really looking forward to further funding from our project partners to continue our great work at the community level to support our own daughters, sisters, and future mothers.”
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