What do a doctor in Somaliland, a pop star in Burkina Faso, and the Ethiopian Scout Association have in common? They are all young Africans who are working to end the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM), starting in their communities.
FGM involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons that result in a lifetime of physical, psychological and emotional suffering. It is human rights violation and an extreme form of gender inequality. Though reasons behind the practice differ greatly, it is often done to preserve virginity until marriage, to decrease a woman’s sexual desire, to signal a rite of passage into womanhood, or to prepare a girl for marriage.
FGM is a global practice transcending cultural, religious, and political boundaries. It is prevalent in over 40 countries, primarily in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, though it is also practiced in Europe, the Americas, and Australia. Globally, more than 200 million women and girls have undergone FGM, and over 3 million more are at risk every year.
Despite decades of advocacy work by international NGOs and grassroots organizations — along with a plethora of medical research connecting it to infections, maternal and newborn complications, and even death — FGM is still considered the norm in many parts of the world.
For end-FGM campaigns to be truly effective, they must be spearheaded by local activists and include the voice of the youth. Faith Mwangi-Powell is the global director of The Girl Generation, the largest global collective to end FGM. She says, “Young people are the heart and soul of the campaign to end FGM. They are tomorrow’s parents and leaders. If they decide to and are supported not to cut their daughters, we will end FGM in our generation.”
Currently, 6 out of every 10 Africans are under the age of 25, and by 2050, this population will have doubled. They are tomorrow’s parents who will protect their children and the leaders who will finally abandon FGM.
Supported by The Girl Generation, this profile series, “The Change Generation,” follows a group of young African activists who are working tirelessly to end FGM.
Here is what these leaders look like.
Mariam Dahir, 31, is a doctor and an end-FGM activist from Hargeisa, Somaliland. In Somalia, 98 percent of women have undergone some form of FGM. As a trainee doctor, Dahir has witnessed firsthand its harmful health effects. “I saw women unable to give birth, [with] horrific complications,” she recalls. “I wanted to know why this was happening and how I could help.”
Despite resistance from many in her community, Dahir started to campaign against the widespread practice. “When I first started speaking out against FGM, many people in my community were critical,” Dahir says. “But things are changing. More people are speaking out against FGM in Somaliland.”
As a lecturer at Frantz Fanon University in Hargeisa, Dahir’s mission is to shape the next generation of academics, doctors, and “change-makers” in Somaliland. She is also campaigning to include an FGM component in the medical educational curriculum, so that medical students know what the negative health implication of FGM are and what to look out for.
As a doctor, teacher, activist, and mother, Dahir breaks the silence surrounding the practice in all aspects of her life. Whether it’s with women at the market or students in her lecture room, Dahir speaks out against the practice and encourages others to do the same.
Dr. Mariam Dahir.
Chairperson of Youth Anti-FGM Somaliland