In a eureka moment for activists around the world, Somalia has finally put a stop to its custom of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in its new constitution. Following in the footsteps of Senegal, the African country previously saw 96% of women undergo the mutilation.
"Circumcision of girls is a cruel and degrading customary practice, and is tantamount to torture. The circumcision of girls is prohibited," says the new provision.
But activists are concerned that without legal enforcement, the provision will mean little more than ink on paper.
According to the World Health Organization, one means of FGM/C, known as infibulation, involves the "removal of part or all of the external genitalia (clitoris, labia minora, and labia majora) and stitching and/or narrowing of the vaginal opening."
It's estimated that 92 million women in Africa live with FGM/C, while another 3 million are at risk of undergoing the procedure every year.
"[Female] circumcision is painful and the problems it creates for you are there until you die," Hawa Abdi, a 23-year-old mother of two, who was circumcised when she was 10. "You are robbed of your womanhood … Now parents who do not want their daughters circumcised can say the law does not allow it."
But ending a longstanding cultural tradition isn't so cut and dry. FGM/C remains a religious requirement, as it is supposed to make women pure and chaste by reducing sexual libido. Some worry that 'uncut' girls will no longer find men willing to marry them.
According to Sheema Sen Gupta, a senior child protection officer with UN children's fund Unicef, it will take time to educate religious leaders and reverse ideologies. Without adequate community involvement, the new law risks driving the practice underground rather than eradicating it.
"As we have learned from several other countries, community empowerment is very crucial to avoid the practice from going underground," said Sen Gupta.
Beyond the myriad physical side effects of cutting—severe bleeding, infection, infertility, postpartum hemorrhage and infant mortality—girls who have undergone the procedure are reportedly more prone to mental disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
Still, it's an important first step and a definite cause for celebration in all African nations. This, while male circumcision remains tainted with controversy here in the West.
Is male circumcision really any different than that performed on females? Sure, boys tend to be cut when they are babies, not boys. But the reasons for the procedure are largely still limited to religious tradition.