Excellences, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for inviting me to present to you today at this esteemed forum on such important and pertinent topics.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in discussions of such importance and gravity for millions of girls and young women the world over.
The Republic of Somaliland, as many of you know, is a country in the Horn of Africa, which has been steadily developing through two decades of state-building and peace building at the hands of constitutional, legitimate and democratically elected governments. I am proud to stand here today knowing that Somaliland’s women have been at the forefront of the country’s development having played a pivotal role in many spheres from politics to education to health. It is, therefore, well understood that girls and women play an important role in our society.
Despite this universal understanding, girls and women continue to suffer a number of injustices throughout the world including being subjected to the topics which we are discussing at this summit – female genital mutilation (FGM) and early and forced child marriage.
OUTDATED CULTURAL AND MISCONSTRUED RELIGION PRACTICES
Somaliland is, unfortunately, one of approximately 30 African countries in which FGM is traditionally practiced. The practice of FGM traces its origin back to the ancient Egyptians and is based on the desire to raise girls to ensure their virginity remains intact until marriage. Over the centuries, the practice has become misconstrued as a religious act which has resulted in its enduring practice by generations. The sad reality is that FGM is a culturally accepted norm in many, particularly rural, societies in the Horn of Africa. Mothers feel a sense of shame if their daughters are not subjected to FGM because they fear that it may mean their daughters’ are shunned by suitors for marriage.
The lack of education about the outdated cultural basis of the practice and ignorance about the large number of health complications that result from FGM continue to exacerbate the issue. Medical problems include kidney infections, urinary tract, excessive blood loss, complications during childbirth and higher than average maternal morality rates. These health complications cause many poor families to incur medical expenses that they cannot afford and place a greater burden on the Government to provide such support in large numbers.
In the case of early and forced child marriage, whilst the practice affects both sexes, the victims are overwhelmingly young women and girls. Child marriage is now widely recognized as a violation of children’s rights however, tradition, religion and poverty continue to fuel the practice of child marriage among the people of Somaliland and as well as in the region. Like everyone else young women and girls should be free to marry who they wish. Yet, it is sad to say but the reality faced by many poor families in Somaliland who are blessed with daughters when faced with abject poverty is to use their daughters as a means of barter trade by marrying them of in exchange for money or livestock.
WHAT HAS BEEN DONE BY THE SOMALILAND GOVERNMENT?
Faced with these prevailing cultural practices and norms, the Somaliland Government has committed itself at the highest level by enshrining the Government’s commitment to adhere to international principles and norms as well as the human rights of women in the constitution. The Government is in the midst of legislating in this area to strengthen the protections already afforded by Somaliland’s national gender policy, national youth policy and national health policy. Moreover, the Government has also mandated 3 ministries – the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Endowment and Religious Affairs, to address the issues of FGM and early and forced child marriage.
By adopting a multi-sectorial approach which includes Government ministries, international agencies, NGOs and civil society organizations, the Government of Somaliland is making a concerted effort to galvanize all elements of our society to participate in the fight against FGM and early and forced child marriage.
As First Lady, I have led the Somaliland National Women’s Champion Initiative to raise awareness about the perils of FGM and combat its continued practice. Much has already been done on the ground in Somaliland; these issues were once taboo subjects which could not be openly discussed let alone publicly addressed through national policies and adverts. Yet, the national health policy now includes strict guidelines against the ‘medicalization’ of FGM. Any health care worker found to have carried out FGM will be subject to disciplinary action which could result in the loss of their practicing license.
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However, much still remains to be done. A fundamental change in values and beliefs about FGM and early and forced child marriage is needed. In many more developed nations, like the UK, it is understood that both these practices are considered to be child abuse and are dealt with accordingly. Unfortunately, trying to change cultural practices and norms that have been accepted and openly practiced for centuries cannot happen overnight. It is in this regard that the international community can assist Somaliland in the fight against FGM and early and forced child marriage by providing ongoing support in the education and health spheres and particularly in rural and remote areas of the country.
Ladies and gentlemen, I believe that through: (a) comprehensive awareness campaigns; (b) clear legislation against these practices; (c) support from Somaliland’s men that they object to these practices; and (d) greater involvement from religious leaders; our society will be able to eradicate FGM and early and forced child marriage.
We must continue the fight so that our daughters, granddaughters and great-granddaughters are not faced with the same abhorrent practices suffered by earlier generations. We must cherish and respect our girls across the world; they are, after all, our future.
Finally, I would like to thank all of you for inviting me to present at this important forum. We, in Somaliland, shall do our upmost to advance the wellbeing of our daughters, as we have done so by restoring peace and promoting democracy, making Somaliland a sanctuary of peace and democratic self-governance in the region. Yet we cannot do it all alone, we need your help, for only by acting in concert can we together change centuries old practices.
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