Speaking out against the ‘painful journey’ of female genital mutilation/cutting
As the world reads about problems of conflict and violence in
Somalia, a remarkable woman, Shamis, who will be 70 next
year, is working to spread peace through education.
In her village of Arabsiyo, Somaliland, Shamis is well-known.
She is described by community members as dynamic, humble,
open, and always available to help others. She became involved
in community education while working as a birthing attendant.
She witnessed the extraordinary pain experienced by women
who had undergone female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C)
while giving birth. She decided to take a stand against FGM/C
and started raising awareness of the risks and dangers of the
Shamis urged women to remember “the painful journey you’ve
had in your life,” speaking of FGM/C and the resulting pain
during childbirth, and to “keep these pains from your daughters”.
Using her own financial means, she organized women
and funded activities for the promotion of the abandonment of
FGM/C and child/forced marriage.
Shamis welcomed the UNICEF/Tostan Community Empowerment
programme to the village of Arabsiyo with open arms.
She saw it as an opportunity to collaborate and further spread
information about women’s and children’s rights. She was
chosen as the Coordinator of the Arabsiyo Community Management
Committee (CMC), a committee established in each
village to oversee the community empowerment process and to
coordinate community activities linked to information learned in
Shamis quickly proved to be one of the most active and effective
CMC leaders in Somaliland.
Under her leadership and after learning about human rights
and the risks involved in undergoing FGM/C, 40 participants
from the Arabsiyo class visited eight neighbouring communities
to exchange and discuss what they’d learned about FGM/C.
Shamis also participated in an inter-village meeting to promote
FGM/C abandonment in surrounding communities. She spoke
publicly of men’s responsibilities to help end FGM/C on June
25 2008, at an event in the town of Mohamed Mogge.
She told the large crowd that by refusing to marry women who
have not been cut, men play a strong role in the perpetuation
of FGM/C as a social convention.
She reached out to men in the audience to show their respect
for human dignity and women’s rights by standing up as fathers,
husbands, and brothers and refusing to accept the practice.
Her speech was met with enthusiastic applause from men
and women alike.
Another example of initiatives taken under Shamis’s leadership
can be seen in four women who are candidates in the upcoming
election for seats in the National Assembly. Previously,
women did not realize they had the right to run for office.
They credit the Community Empowerment Programme sessions
for making them aware of their right to vote and be
elected, and explain that if they weren’t running for office, they would be neglecting their responsibility to put into action what
they’ve learned. “If we don’t actually dare to run for office, we will not be applying
this important information from our new education sessions
on democracy.” Shamis was the first to encourage them to run
on a platform promoting the improvement of community health
and education in Arabsiyo.
Shamis also encourages the younger participants to be proactive
and share their new information with others.
One young man says that before the Community Empowerment
Programme, he had never learned about democracy and
human rights, but now he believes that awareness of human
rights can lead to an end to violence and contribute to building
peace. He therefore plans on starting a Community Empowerment
class for other students at his high school with support
Shamis’s motivation is contagious.
With the help of Tostan, UNICEF, and the Government of
Somaliland, she has succeeded in mobilizing hundreds of people
for the campaign to raise awareness of human rights, but
she knows there is still much work to be done.
Her aspirations for the years to come are to reduce the illiteracy
rate in her community, to continue to encourage women to
participate actively in decision-making processes, to improve
women and children’s health and to promote sustainable development.
With her courage and boundless energy, Shamis is an inspiration
to girls and women throughout the world who seek to make
Shamis speaks to participants at an advocacy forum against FGM/C
in Arabsiyo.© 12-08/Tostan