After hearing an outpouring of concern from more than 1 million protesters, the prime minister of Somalia has vowed to put an end to female genital mutilation.
Somalia has one of the highest rates of FGM worldwide -- an estimated 95 percent of girls there undergo the procedure, according to UNICEF. While a number of leaders there have tried banning the practice, advocates may have gotten their strongest support to date when Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke said he’s now “committed” to stopping FGM.
“I’m committed to outlaw FGM in Somalia through legislation, advocacy, education and community engagement to confront the social norms that encourage the FGM practices within the society,” Sharmarke said earlier this month in response to a campaign launched by Avaaz, the organization told The Huffington Post.
Avaaz, a platform that aims to empower people to take action on global issues, launched a petition that praised the government of Puntland, a region in northeast Somalia, for banning FGM. But it also called on the country’s central government to issue legislation that would outlaw the practice entirely.
As of Thursday afternoon, the petition collected 1.2 million signatures.
FGM involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for no medical benefit and comes with a slew of health risks. It can cause severe bleeding, lead to problems urinating, cysts, infections and complications in childbirth, among other issues, according to WHO.
The procedure was officially banned by the U.N. in 2012, and Somalia has taken steps to put an end to it. But the procedure is still widely practiced in Somalia and other parts of the world.
In 2012, Somalia indicated it would ban the practice, but additional measures were still needed to be put forth, experts said.
To solidify the movement, the country’s Ministry of Women Affairs and Human Rights announced in August that it would introduce a law that would ban FGM altogether, Somali news outlet Horseed Media reported.
‘’Time has come for us to eradicate this bad practice and protect the rights of girls and women in our country,’’ Sahra Mohammed Ali Samatar, minister of Women Affairs, said at a conference.
Even with such fanfare, experts say the government needs greater pressure from advocates worldwide in order to be fomented into taking tangible steps.
Waris Dirie, an advocate and former model whose face has graced Chanel ads, is hoping her star power will help push the Avaaz campaign forward. Dirie, a native of Somalia, who was cut when she was 5 years old, has publicly rejected the tradition and recalled the intense pain and rage she felt as a result.
She has urged supporters to sign the petition to create a “global wave” against the practice.
“It's pure violence against girls, and it destroys the rest of their lives,” Dirie told The Guardian in 2013. “And for what? For who?"