The campaign continues. From East Turkestan, we now fly all the way to Somaliland, where Ubah, a courageous activist, decided to challenge one of the worst human rights violations facing women in her country.
Who is Ubah Ali?
Ubah Ali is from Somaliland. She studies politics at the American University in Beirut, Lebanon. Ubah became a victim of female genital mutilation at the age of six.
What is Ubah campaigning for?
Ubah is working to eradicate female genital mutilation (FGM) in Somaliland. She is passionate about helping the most vulnerable categories of the population, especially women. She is the co-founder of an organisation called Solace for Somaliland Girls Foundation, which aims to eradicate all forms of FGM across Somaliland through education and awareness. Ubah is convinced FGM is not about religion. This is a cultural phenomenon. This is why she is working with religious figures and doctors to help prevent circumcision. She regularly leads workshops in three different districts in Somaliland. If it ends up being successful, her plan is to expand her project to other parts of Somaliland.
What about Somaliland?
Somaliland is a de facto State that used to be a part of Somalia until 1991. Ubah deplores that people are frightened of visiting Somaliland. She considers that even if the economy is weak now, people from Somaliland are building strong foundations for their new country.
How big is the FGM issue in Somaliland?
FGM has long been practiced in Somaliland, as in 30 other countries with representative data on prevalence, at least (UNICEF, February 2018). It is something every girl is supposed to go through to be valued and able to honour her family through marriage, which depends on whether women have been circumcised or not. According to Ubah, the aim of FGM is for society to be able to have control on women’s sexual lives. The older generation is very strict about FGM. They consider refusing it is attacking the religion. Girls are not allowed to talk about it, nor are they allowed to raise their voices in general.
The practice of FGM is in contradiction with women’s rights and triggers health issues for the victims. Circumcising girls is a key factor that contributes to a system of gender inequality.
For Ubah, it is difficult for women today to challenge the cultural norms surrounding FGM, as a woman is considered to be half a man.
FGM is also related to the economy: a lot of women are able to make a living thanks to circumcision. Ending FGM is therefore the abolition of a source of income.
What motivated Ubah to become an activist?
Alongside her three sisters, Ubah is a victim of FGM, performed on her when she was six. She knows the pain that many girls go through. Once, when she asked her mother why she did it to her four daughters, her mother replied that if she had known the effects of FGM at that time, she wouldn’t have done it in the first place. This is why education is important to Ubah. To eradicate circumcision, raising awareness is important.
What is Ubah’s recommendation to women willing to fight FGM?
The best way to challenge this norm is to make women move. Women should believe in themselves and they have to know that no one is allowed to tell them what to do. Women are capable of creating their own stories. They have to speak out.
What challenges does Ubah meet?
Ubah is leading a front attack to a very old norm in Somaliland. As a lot of people believe FGM is part of the religion, they consider that Ubah is attacking the religion itself. Even members of her own family are opposed to the changes she wants to bring. She is accused of being too liberal or too influenced by “western” ideas. But Ubah is convinced that changes can happen in Somaliland and she is ready to face these challenges.
One last word from Ubah…
Ubah is hopeful and says the situation is slowly changing. The number of girls who go to school is rising. People start recognising the potential of women and they start to educate both genders. “We can put an end to female genital mutilation”, she says. “This starts with yourself, from yourself. Changing something big starts with fighting for your own rights and then reaching to the community around you.”