1st August saw Somalia’s National Constituent Assembly (NCA) take what female genital cutting campaigner Edna Adan Ismail is calling “the best step taken so far against this practice” as they passed a new constitution banning FGC.
The new constitution describes FGC as “cruel and degrading”, as well as “tantamount to torture”. The constitution states that “the circumcision of girls is prohibited” which international and Somali press assumes to cover all types of FGC. The constitution also guarantees other rights for women such as the right to be elected to the Somalian parliament and abortion if the mother’s life is at risk.
Interestingly, the evolution of the constitution suggests that banning of FGC is not even its most controversial point regarding women’s rights. Although there are some reports of opposition to the ban by the Supreme Religious Council in Somalia it is an initial proposal of a 30% quota for women for their parliament that was left out of the final draft rather than the FGC ban. The fact that the ban has been left in amid opposition is heartening for country where UNICEF estimates 95% of girls undergo FGC.
There are some concerns however about the constitution, both internationally and in Somalia, which could hinder the progress it sets out to achieve. The BBC’s Mary Harper is cautious about what difference this new legislation will accomplish in the face of the politically fragmented region that the constitution covers. Given the high levels of FGC in the country it would be impossible to impose the ban immediately, leading to Harper to suggest that the Somalia of the new constitution is just a “fantasy land”. Some in Somalia are similarly unconvinced about whether the constitution can deliver all it promises, saying that it will take “years” to banish FGC.
However there is a high level of approval for the constitution in Somalia. This is clear from the 96% majority the constitution passed by in the NCA, as well as a poll showing 78% of Somalis in favour. This, along with the efforts in Puntland and the self-declared independent state of Somaliland, mean that the region is moving in the right direction regarding FGC.
The constitutional ban comes into effect on 21st August. Whilst the constitution may not automatically bring an end to the practice it brings hope that FGC may some day soon become a thing of the past in Somalia.
By Rani Selvarajah
Orchid Project intern