Why press freedom and ending FGM are linked in Somalia

By AGGREY MUTAMBO

Freedom of the press and female genital mutilation (FGM) may be unrelated issues around the world, but in Somalia stakeholders believe achieving one will depend on the other.

On Sunday, as the world marked the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, the two issues converged in Mogadishu, with stakeholders saying ending the scourge of FGM will largely depend on how journalists can speak freely and accurately.

Somalia fares poorly when it comes to overcoming FGM and achieving press freedom.

In Africa, it is considered one of the most dangerous countries to work as a journalist, according to annual data from Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a global press freedom lobby.

And when it comes to FGM, nine out of ten women in Somalia, aged 15 to 49, whom you meet, have undergone it, forcibly, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the agency global organization dealing with sexual and reproductive health.

A UNFPA study found that most affected girls in Somalia were between the ages of five and nine, and as many as seven in ten women in the country mistakenly believe it was an Islamic requirement to have their hair cut.

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On Sunday, stakeholders generally agreed that there needed to be more awareness about FGM.

“By advocating for an end to FGM and having access to community members, survivors and those intimately involved in the practice, journalists can report on the complexity of the issue with sensitivity and clarity, ensuring that diverse voices are heard,” said Omar Faruk Osman, Secretary General of the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), a press freedom lobby in Somalia.

“Most importantly, the media has the ability to frame FGM in a human rights context and to communicate strongly the impact of the practice on the physical and psychological health of survivors,” he said during a ceremony to commemorate the day against FGM.

NUSOJ has launched a working partnership with UNFPA, seeking to counter misinformation about FGM and working with local civil society groups to raise awareness of the dangers of FGC.

The UN agency said it was also protecting women and providing care for those who had suffered it, seeking to soften the blow in a country that has yet to enact a law against FGM, even though the leaders generally do not tolerate them.

“Female genital mutilation harms the lives and future of young girls and women. It is a violation of the rights to physical integrity and freedom from torture,” said Anders Thomsen, UNFPA Country Director for Somalia.

One area of ​​focus, Thomsen said, was working with civil society groups and government officials to mobilize “political pledges, positive role models and action to end FGM.”

“Religious leaders, families, communities, women, men, girls and boys are engaging through personal pledges, positive role models and action to end FGM in Somalia. However, it is necessary to maintain and accelerate advocacy and community action in order not to lose the gains made so far. Only united and concerted action can end FGM.

NUSOJ and UNFPA said they plan to work with a group of 50 journalists, civil society actors “and citizens of goodwill”, to celebrate and reflect together on the progress and challenges facing the campaign. of FGM in the country.

The press lobby said it was committed to highlighting the benefits of ending FGM as part of a fight against gender-based violence, as well as seeking progressive laws on crimes against women. women and other gender discrimination.

This year’s theme was “Accelerating Investments to End FGM”, and the group says a vibrant media will help in Somalia’s quest to end FGM. He said he would continue to work with UNFPA to train journalists to report on FGM, having already trained 400 over the past few months.

“We will maintain our steadfast support for FGM advocacy and local action to end FGM, which is both a rights violation and a retrograde cultural practice that continues to perpetuate inequality and GBV in our beloved country. “Osman said.

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