The impact of harmful customary practices in Africa: case of female genital mutilation in Somalia as a violation of human rights
Mireille, Tankama Lwamba
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This thesis sets out to examine the practice of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) in Somalia and its impact on women. The political instability in Somalia provides an opportunity for the increase of all forms of violations of human rights. The prevalence of FGM/C in Somalia has been declared as the highest in the World, but the Somali Government has not taken any steps to address the problem. This study was motivated by the dire situation of women in Somalia. Women suffer from gender inequality in the sense that societal practices – and norms dictate that women’s sexuality be controlled with a view to suppressing their sexual desires. In this way; their rights are violated. Infibulation and sunna performed on women come with immediate and late complications including death, infection, sexual dysfunction, and exposure to HIV infection. Somalia is one of the African countries where women’s rights are almost non-existent. As Dirie notes: ‘if genital mutilation were a problem affecting men, the matter would long be settled.’ International human rights instruments help this study to investigate whether customary practices such as FGM/C are harmful to Somali women and children and whether they constitute violence against women. This practice prevents women from enjoying fundamental rights as recognized by international human rights standards. It is universally known that FGM/C constitutes a violation against women and girls’ rights because they are forced to embrace the practice. Consequently, several rights are violated such as the right to equality, the rights to freedom from all forms of torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, the right to freedom from harmful customary practices, the rights of the child, and the right to health. The persistent practice of FGM/C is mainly a result of the absence of specific legislation proscribing it as well as the political instability that creates an environment conductive to the wanton violation of the rights of citizens. A recent Somali provisional constitution has recognised FGM/C as a violation of children’s rights but the law is not enforced.Infibulation and sunna are part of Somali culture. That is why attempts to eradicate the practice create a dilemma for the authorities. This has invariably placed Universalists and cultural relativists on a collision course. Ensuing government inaction has resulted in numerous reservations being made to stall the adoption of certain instruments of human rights law such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). This is because cultural relativists do not consider FGM/C as a violation, but as an expression and fulfilment of Somalis’ culture as provided for in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948. As argued by Packer, human dignity and life represent universal values for everyone; even if FGM/C is a part of culture, certain limitations must be implemented to preserve people’s fundamental rights. This thesis agrees with the stance that FGM/C violates women’s health. This is due to the absence of proper legislation in Somalia, inadequate literacy and the collapse of the political system. Recommendations include the proposal that legal strategies to eradicate FGM/C must be accompanied by broad policies and grassroots programmes such as educational activities to explain to people the risks of this practice and how communities can remedy it without affecting their cultural tenets.