HARGEISA, SOMALILAND 22 November 2009 — Hundreds of representatives from 20 communities in Somaliland made history on Sunday as they gathered in Liberty Stadium in Somaliland, with the support of Tostan, UNICEF and the Government of Somaliand to collectively declare their decision to abandon all forms of female genital cutting (FGC).

After participating in the 3-year Tostan Community Empowerment Program (CEP) in the Somali language on democracy, human rights, health, problem-solving, literacy and management skills, 14 Tostan CEP-participant villages and 6 neighbouring communities took the collective and historic decision to abandon the practice of FGC.

Hundreds of community members traveled to Hargeisa to witness the declaration ceremony and enjoy the songs, dance and theatre sketches performed by numerous youth and community groups. Amongst those who attended to applaud this historic decision were representatives of the Government of Somaliland, including the Minister of Family Affairs and Social Development; SUNGO Umbrella, Nagaad and other local women’s associations who have worked for many years in the area to promote an end to FGC; local community and religious leaders; Tostan staff; the Representative and a delegation from UNICEF-Somalia; and a delegation from Tostan classes and members of government from the neighbouring country of Djibouti. Cheikh Youssouf Abdi, a local religious leader from Hargeisa representing the Ministry of Religion, took the opportunity to publicly congratulate and lend his support to the decision of the 20 communities, reiterating in his speech that FGC is not a requirement of Islam, a belief that has contributed to the perpetuation of the practice both in Somalia and on an international scale.

FGC in Somaliland

The Tostan Community Empowerment Program (CEP) was implemented in Somalia, in collaboration with UNICEF, Somaliland Cultural and Sports Organization (SOCSA), the Government of Somaliland and with the generous support of the James R. Greenbaum, Jr. Family Foundation, from 2006 to 2009 in response to the acute needs of the country. In 1996 UNICEF estimated literacy among men at 36% and women at 14% of the population and, according to recent UNICEF statistics, FGC is practiced on almost 98% of Somali women, with 80% undergoing infibulation, the most severe form.

“…a decisive step in the process leading to total abandonment of FGC in Somaliland.”

According to the Minister of Family Affairs and Social Development the declaration represents, “a decisive step in the process leading to total abandonment of FGC in Somaliland.” UNICEF Somalia Representative, Rozanne Chorlton, also encouraged community members to spread their example to others in the country and re-affirmed UNICEF’s continued support of communities in their actions for the protection of children.

A growing international movement to abandon FGC

The ramifications of this community-led decision resonate internationally, touching populations in neighbouring countries and diaspora communities worldwide. As Founder and Director of the Edna Adan Maternity Hospital in Hargeisa, Edna Adan Ismail, pointed out in her speech at the declaration, their brave example will contribute to the acceleration of a growing international movement to end FGC and promote better health for girls and women. Kadra Awaleh, a representative of the Ministry of Women of the Government of neighbouring Djibouti, also thanked the communities for their efforts, saying that the declaration will provide an example for communities participating in the Tostan-UNICEF program in Djibouti.

The Tostan Community Empowerment Program will expand to a further 42 communities in Somalia in 2010.