FGM - The Rights of Women


By Charlotte Cowdery

Women’s rights in Somaliland can be found in 4 sections of Article 36 of the Somaliland Constitution. These four sections focus on the equality between men and women, the freedom of women, the ability for women to own and access land as well as the educational opportunities available to women. Despite women’s rights being addressed by the Somaliland Constitution, the overview and the breadth of these rights are severely limited and leave certain issues such as violence against women and girls, female political participation, and female genital mutilation (FGM) unaddressed. Additionally, there is a strong reiteration of the allowances provided by Sharia law. Unfortunately, it may be determined that the issues pertaining to women’s rights overshadows the attempts at protecting women’s rights within the Constitution. One of the most concerning aspects regarding women’s rights is the prevalence of FGM within Somaliland and the surrounding regions. This blog aims to raise awareness of the problems that stem from FGM practices and the difficulties of eradicating such practices from Somaliland.


Female genital mutilation is a practice that ‘involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia’. According to a report specifically focusing on FGM, in Somaliland and Somalia combined the prevalence of FGM is ‘approximately 99.2% among women ages 15-49’. Undoubtedly, this figure represents an overwhelming majority of women who have experienced these severe practices. Crucially, according to the same report, ‘76.4% believe the practice should continue’. Consideration of this figure is significant as it suggests that in 2022, FGM had an extremely strong existence and most importantly, was not going to be eradicated perhaps as quickly as the international community were hoping. This is most likely a result of the entrenched cultural beliefs surrounding FGM which exist amongst families as well as the wider community.

To highlight the severity of FGM, it is important to focus on the problems that may potentially stem from this practice. There are several different types of FGM that all vary in severity and potential harm however, any form is prone to causing unnecessary harm. During the procedure, harm may arise in the form of severe pain, bleeding, infections, tissue damage, shock and in certain circumstances, death. Long-term, several more problems may occur including, urinary, sexual, menstrual, and vaginal problems as well as, potential risks at childbirth, further surgeries and importantly, a factor that should not be overlooked is the psychological effect these practices have on those who experience them. It is significant to acknowledge that there is no medical reasoning behind the practice of FGM. As previously stated, it is assumed that much of the reasoning stems from cultural beliefs and norms. In a document produced by the UN, there are several factors of which are to be considered as to understanding why FGM occurs, specifically focusing on religious and ethnic backgrounds. It is suggested that women and families with Islamic beliefs are more likely to experience FGM than other religious groups. Another crucial factor fixates on whether mothers have undergone FGM and the status of their education. It is stated that mothers who have experienced FGM will often have the practise carried out on their daughters and mothers with no education are more likely to have their daughters experience FGM. These factors demonstrate the difficulty of eradicating FGM from its most prevalent countries as the practise has become rooted in the social and cultural normality of women and girls in Somaliland. When considering these factors as reasons for FGM, change may only occur through education or through extinguishing the experiences of cultural norms that have been practised for decades. Neither of these actions can occur by themselves. Collective effort and focus amongst the international community as well as commitment from the government within Somaliland is required to endeavour to end FGM and therefore protect the human rights of millions of women and girls across the world.

International effort to combat FGM does exist. For example, the UN through their Sustainable Development Goal 5.3 aims to ‘Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation’. This demonstrates the concern amongst the international community in relation to the prominence of FGM. Nonetheless, FGM in Somaliland remains an intractable issue. Significantly, in Somaliland there is a requirement for the government to produce more effective legislation to attempt to battle the issue. Currently, to protect women’s rights against the practices of FGM, certain articles from certain pieces of legislation need to be read or interpretated in specific ways. For example, mutilation is considered in Article 24(4) The Right to Life, Security of the Person, Respect for Reputation and Crimes against Human Rights. Article 36 also relates directly to women’s rights and may possibly be used. Nonetheless, direct legislation in regard to FGM is yet to exist in Somaliland. Undeniably, this is ineffective and inefficient to protect human rights and ensure equality between women and men. Crucially, it is stated within Article 36 of the Somaliland Constitution that more legislation is required to further protect women’s rights. Although yet to occur, this is recognition of the necessity of legislation to protect women’s rights.

National legislation is expected to be the most effective method of reducing the occurrence of FGM within Somaliland. On the other hand, when discussing FGM, the medical and healthcare system of Somaliland must be considered. It is likely that due to lack of training and teaching, many health professionals do not adequately respond to the potential of FGM, or situations in which FGM has already occurred. In some circumstances, medicalised FGM does occur and demonstrates significant issues due to the involvement of medical professionals. Yet, without the existence of comprehensive, clear, and accessible legislation which evidently prohibits FGM and punishes those who carry out or encourage the practice, it is difficult to place the blame in the hands of those undertrained and under sourced, this especially applies in rural areas.

It must be acknowledged that FGM is a tradition deep rooted in certain cultures. The origin of FGM is not clear however, the reasoning behind FGM often varies in different regions. One factor concerns the immense social pressure within communities to exercise FGM if it is a regular practice within that community. Secondly, FGM is often considered as a necessity for young girls for several reasons, including preservation of premarital virginity, a higher prospect of marriage and the idea of modesty. In addition to this, although it is not directly related to any religious readings, some religious leaders may uphold the tradition although there are others who will condemn the practise. Consideration of the culture and traditions behind FGM can provide a clearer understanding as to the difficulties that occur when attempting to eradicate the practice. Consequently, the creation of national legislation would require the input of communities to account for culture and traditions as well as to gain a level of acceptance from communities.

In summary, there are several factors pertaining to the strong prevalence of FGM amongst women and girls in Somaliland, varying from religious beliefs to lack of education. Nonetheless, a reoccurring and concerning factor revolves around the lack of national legislation introduced to combat FGM. National legislation is likely to result in a snowballing effect in preventing FGM. It has the opportunity to encourage the healthcare system to prohibit medicalised FGM and further train medical professionals on the dangers of the practise and how to effectively prevent or respond to the procedure if necessary. Undoubtedly, Somaliland represents some of the worst figures relating to the prevalence of FGM. In order to make the slightest improvements within this region, national legislation may be the most important factor however, it is not the only option. More awareness is needed as well as a more effective approach from international organisations despite Somaliland’s lack of international recognition, especially due to the overwhelming percentage of women whose human rights are infringed as a result of this practice.