In a breakthrough for the campaign against female genital mutilation, the three candidates in Somaliland’s presidential election — all of the men — have said they will seek to ban the practice.
By Anna Davis
On Monday, the self-declared state in East Africa will elect a new president — and all the candidates have pledged to outlaw the barbaric practice following a campaign backed by the Standard.
About 98 percent of women in the former British colony, which declared independence from Somalia in 1991, have undergone FGM.
London campaigner Nimco Ali traveled to Somaliland to lobby the three main political parties on the issue. They all met her and promised to bring in legislation to end the procedure.
Frontrunner Muse Bihi Abdi writes today in this newspaper that ending FGM in Somaliland will “complete the circle of a campaign that the Evening Standard has done so much to highlight over the last five years; the campaign to end the practice of FGM or female genital mutilation”.
Ms Ali said: “I can’t explain how beautiful it is or how overwhelmed I am that these things are materializing.
“When I first started campaigning there was a lot of shame, stigma, and fear, but now there is hope, conviction, and pride.
I am so honored they met me and what a level of respect I have for each and every one of them.”
Ms. Ali met Faisal Ali Warabe of the UCID party, a representative for Abdirahman Mohamed Abdullahi of the Waddani party, and Mr. Abdi of the Kulmiye party.
She offered to work for free for 100 days as a gender adviser to whoever becomes president. She was so shocked by the men’s positive responses that she “high-fived them in delight”.
The presidential election is seen as one of the few genuinely positive events in the region at the moment.
Nearly 800,000 voters have been registered for the first election in Africa to use iris-recognition software to prevent electoral fraud.
Ms Ali said: “The candidates were incredibly busy traveling from one city to another campaigning. For them to make time and speak so patiently and openly about something so deeply-rooted and stigmatized was amazing.
“We are meant to be ashamed of this thing, but by talking about it, it showed how progressive they are.
“They were all super-informed about FGM but were waiting for someone to give them the legitimacy to talk about it.” She admitted that speaking to the men about the issue was daunting, but added: “Ending FGM through legislation is the key thing for a place where prevalence levels are so high.
“It is fundamental to the success of Somaliland. It cannot be successful if the women are repressed.”
Commentary: Muse Bihi Abdi
Presidential Candidate of Kulmlye Party
In the next few days, I hope and believe that I will become the fifth president of the Republic of Somaliland. If I do, I will lead an administration that will complete the circle of a campaign that the Evening Standard has done so much to highlight over the last five years; the campaign to end the practice of FGM.
Despite amazing successes against the odds, Somaliland continues to have among the highest rates of girls undergoing FGM. But the country is on the cusp of genuine and profound change that could end this.
Why? Firstly there is a broad social movement on this issue of activists, health workers, educationalists and Islamic scholars who are educating rural and urban communities about FGM and advocating for its end. It’s having a real impact. Women who have been “cut” are now saying they will not do it to the next generation.
This is remarkable, given how much of a taboo this was until recently.
Nimco Ali, who was born in Somaliland, was instrumental in getting the law on FGM changed in the UK. She has worked with all three political parties in Somaliland. But this is a campaign with roots here, which is why I believe it can succeed.
The remarkable Edna Adan, an African health pioneer and former foreign minister of Somaliland, has worked on this issue for over 40 years. Now many midwife students are not only being taught about the health complications of FGM but how to spread the word about ending it.
In August, 180 of our religious leaders took part in a conference exploring the medical details of FGM and its grave risks for girls.
Ending FGM in Somaliland will also complete the circle in another way. Having been outlawed in the UK, it will make it harder for anyone from the diaspora to come to Somaliland to have it carried out here.
What is needed now is the political leadership to bring focus and clarity to this campaign led by Somaliland’s hundreds of activists and campaigners.
If I am elected president, I will do exactly that. FGM is about gender equality. For such a young nation like Somaliland to be so committed to ending it also shows it is committed to genuine democracy and is a rare example in such a troubled region.