Today is the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation, otherwise known as FGM. Health Poverty Action works with communities to help them discuss health and social problems and change behaviour to end FGM.
Shamsa Mohamed Suleiman is 48 years old, and lives in Somaliland. She remembers her own circumcision as if it happened yesterday.
“It happened 40 years ago, but I still feel the pain. I will never in my life forget the pain. There was no anaesthetic. Five people had to sit on me, holding me down, and they tied my legs. Then they started cutting with the knife.
I was eight years old. At that time, they cut off all the labia, the clitoris, and sew the wound shut with only one stick to keep a small opening.
I still feel it.”
At that time she did not know she would later become a circumciser herself.
“My grandmother raised us. She was a circumciser. When she got older, she started to teach me. By the time I was 25 years old I started.
When people came to know that I had the skill, they started to call me. I replaced my grandmother. At that time, it was common, and no one thought that it was illegal.”
Over 200 million women and girls are thought to be living with the consequences of FGM. The immediate health concerns include heavy bleeding and potential infection, but the longer term impacts can also be devastating.
Women who have undergone FGM face emotional trauma, severe pain, and much higher risks of complications during pregnancy and childbirth. According to UNICEF, an estimated 30 million girls are at risk of being cut within the next decade.
We work with communities in different countries to challenge FGM practices. We help them create social change using a communication tool called Community Conversations. It encourages interactive discussions about health issues, which can often be taboo. This helps people to seek healthcare, and discuss harmful traditional practices such as FGM.
As a result in Ethiopia we have seen a decreasing trend of FGM practice between mother (64%), first daughter (30%), second daughter (18%) and third daughter (14%).
When Shamsa worked with Health Poverty Action on the issue she too began to understand the harm caused by the practice.
“I came to understand that it can cause harm to women’s health, and that it is against Islam. I want to forget about that past and become a new woman.”
You can learn more about Community Conversations in this video, which shows how communities we work with in Kenya are changing their practices.