Somalia is a small country in East Africa where female genital mutilation is widespread and consists of the most severe form of female circumcision. This violent act of removing the clitoris, or parts of it, has grown to be a public health issue because the practice has severe physical and mental health consequences for women. The custom has an ancient origin but there are many different reasons and rationales for its practice. These range from religion, to a rite of passage for womanhood, to the preservation of female chastity and purity. Given its complexity, there are no easy solutions for ending the practice. However, raising awareness outside of Somalia and urging all women to join together to effect change, is an important first step closer to helping the girls of Somalia.
Female genital mutilation exists in three forms of cutting. The first is known as Type 1 in which the the precipice, surrounding the clitoris is removed. Type 2 involves removal of the clitoris as well as parts of labia minora. Type 3 is known as Pharaonic circumcision, the most severe form, in which all exterior parts are removed and then closed by rejoining the cut edges of the labia. The practice of Pharaonic circumcision or infibulations is the most widespread practice in Somalia, and it has severe physical and psychological effects on the girls who undergo the procedure.
Some of the physical short term effects are pain, severe hemorrhage from clitoral artery, shock due to hemorrhage, and urinary retention (Ford). Long-term effects include the development of inclusion cysts, dysmenorrhea (painful cramps during menstruation), infertility, and painful intercourse. Furthermore, the vaginal areas of women with infibulations have to be re-opened for the first experience of sexual intercourse and for each birth. Afterward, they have to be restitched, leading to the formation of painful scar tissues as well as to difficulties with urination and menstruation.
The harmful physical effects are obvious but there are also negative psychological effects that these girls in Somalia face because of genital mutilation. Many may experience posttraumatic stress disorder or anxiety along with nightmares to haunt them for the rest of their lives. These girls are victims to a culture that labels women inferior and unworthy if not physically mutilated. Feelings of insecurity, helplessness, loneliness, and fear are just a few that girls will go through throughout their lifetime after being a victim to female genital mutilation.
Girls in Somalia may not accept that their worth is solely in their reproductive system, yet, they have no voice in their own country. Outsiders can help but first they must raise awareness, which can cause issues among the community itself for fear of devaluation in their customs. My Voice is a feminist organization at East Carolina University that focuses on equal rights for all women. They raise awareness on campus and reach out to the community with a goal to raise money for particular issues affecting women and minorities. By joining the club and speaking of the issues facing Somalia, the group can create awareness on campus and get members to fundraise money for the cause as well as getting more students involved.
Waris Dirie is a supermodel in the U.S. but is from Somalia. She has created a video to bring awareness to the horrors of Female Genital Mutilation. In her video, she addresses her personal experience with genital mutilation and explains how it changed her life forever. Dirie was a victim to this cruel act and she advocates stopping Female Genital Mutilation worldwide with her foundation called Desert Flower. By showing this video, we can create awareness and then the next step we need to take is to take action.
An active role we can play as ECU students after watching the film is to raise money for the Desert Flower foundation through My Voice organization. By raising money, we can help these girls in Somalia so that they can live a life free of fear from genital mutilation. ECU students, like many, say they are too busy to help because of homework, exams, and work. My response to these students: there will always be work and things one must do, but if we do not help give a voice to these girls, we have already failed as human beings. We need to push our negative thoughts to the side and fight for equality for these girls so that they may one day have a positive future like Waris Dirie.