Somaliland, a self -declared independent state with de facto diplomatic links and support from regional and international powers, recently had its general election earlier this year. All three candidates pledged a willingness to pass a decree to ban Female Genital Mutilation(FGM).
Despite the transition from a war-torn state to a leading example for democracy in Africa, it is still plagued by cultural maladaptations which have led to the exploitation of women, with a recent UN report finding that 98% of women in Somaliland had undergone FGM. The prevalence of structural violence and gender-based violence has thrived recently in Somaliland and the East Africa region. This has been exacerbated by the recent droughts of 2017 which have led to thousands being displaced.
There are many issues with the practice; FGM has been linked with infertility and many other conception problems. Those who do not have infertility problems can still suffer from adverse health defects during marriage and pregnancy.
Two months in and the new government has already formulated one bill, and are in the process of drafting a policy to counter FGM. The bill that was passed last month aims to address the increasing gender-based violence in Somaliland. Under this bill, rape and other forms of sexual violence, such as gang rape and child marriages, will be outlawed. Another clause in the bill also gives out life sentences to those offenders that infect their victims with HIV.
The Somaliland speaker for parliament Bashe Mohamed Farah told the BBC earlier this year that the legislation was a necessity in deterring future incidents. ‘The main emphasis of the new act is to completely stop rape,’ he explained.
The bill to eradicate FGM has not yet been put in place, but preliminary talks have taken place to criminalise the procedure. The process has been accelerated by the Somaliland religious ministry issuing a fatwa (a legal pronouncement in Islam) on February 6th.
The country is Muslim dominated and many communities are influenced by the messages of faith based leaders. The fatwa was issued to commemorate the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM. The collaboration between the central government and the religious body has been met with delight across the country and continent. The successful implementation of this policy will also be in line with the Global Goal 5 initiative that aims to end all forms of FGM by 2030.
This is the first step in tackling gender-based violence and the exploitation of Somali women. However, it is important to understand the role of grassroot charities who had lobbied the Somaliland government from the beginning. Perhaps, the message here is that the real success comes from the long-term financing of community-led charities and initiatives instead of funding NGO programmes which hardly succeed in motivating policy change in African countries.