Girls in Somalia, forced to stay at home due to COVID-19, are now undergoing Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) in their homes.
“The lockdown is being seen as an opportune time for the procedure to be carried out in the home with ample time for healing,” said Sadia Allin, Plan International’s Head of Mission in Somalia.
“The economic turndown is also motivating the cutters to resort to harmful livelihood options, and they are knocking door to door to cut girls.”
SOMALIA HAS HIGHEST FGM RATE
According to UNICEF, Somalia has the highest cases of FGM/C in the world with 98% of girls undergoing it between the ages of 5 and 11 and COVID-19 prevention measures are seemingly perpetuating the continuation of the practice. The extreme act of violence is still legal in the country.
Plan International, working with local partner, NAFIS (Somaliland National Network Against FGM/C) are already experiencing increased calls on FGM/C incidents across Somalia, a practice traditionally carried out during school holidays in urban settings or during the rainy season in rural areas.
“One of the cases we have recorded is of 2 sisters aged 8 and 9 who were cut last week and who are still trying to come to terms with what happened to them. Their mother, like many parents, views cutting as an essential part of a girls’ cultural and gender identity, a precondition for marriage and most importantly a religious rite of passage,” said Ms Allin.
COVID-19 LOCKDOWN LEAVES GIRLS UNPROTECTED
The COVID-19 pandemic is deeply affecting the environment in which girls and all children grow and develop, increasing immediate protection risks and undermining their longer-term health, wellbeing and resilience. Girls and young women living in fragile and conflict-affected settings face even greater risks, as increased stress from the health and economic impacts are exacerbated and weak protection structures face further erosion.
Measures to address increased risk of gender-based violence and harmful practices, including FGM/C, should be included in response and recovery plans.
According to the United Nations Population Fund, COVID-19 could have far reaching impacts on the effort to end FGM/C, with a potential 2 million FGM/C cases occurring over the next decade that could have otherwise been averted.
FGM/C has lifelong consequences for girls and their rights to make decisions about their sexual and reproductive health. This practice has no health benefits and harms girls and women in many ways. It robs girls of life opportunities and stops them from reaching their full potential.
“Every girl and woman should have the autonomy and necessary knowledge to be able to make free and informed decisions about her body,” said Ms Allin.
“It is crucial to engage families, communities and traditional and religious leaders in changing attitudes and norms around this harmful practice. We need to ensure it is no longer perceived to be acceptable, beneficial or tolerated and is instead condemned as a human rights violation which needs to be eliminated.”
SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH SERVICES MUST CONTINUE
Plan International is demanding that protection and sexual and reproductive health must remain central to COVID-19 response.
The organisation is calling for sexual and reproductive health information and services, and services preventing and responding to gender-based violence and harmful practices – including FGM/C – to be deemed as essential. It is also calling for these services should be prioritised and adapted to ensure continued accessibility during the pandemic.
Plan International is responding to COVID-19 pandemic in more than 50 countries, including Somalia, with a focus on protecting vulnerable children and communities from the impacts of the pandemic.
“Child protection risks and risks of harmful practices must be assessed, monitored and responded to during responses to COVID-19, including in displacement camps and host communities and in quarantine situations, said Ms Allin.
“Measures to address increased risk of gender-based violence and harmful practices, including FGM/C, should be included in response and recovery plans and these should be gender and age responsive. Girls and young women should be involved in the development of response and recovery plans to ensure their unique needs are met.”