Women and girls in Somalia are continually subjected to violence, both physical and psychological – often starting from a very young age. In my Activity Post for this week, you’ll learn that from approximately the ages of 5-11, adolescent girls are subjected to a severe form of female genital mutilation (FGM). That is an issue on its own with some detrimental consequences, but what other issues may be underlying that practice should also be discussed.
According to an April 2018 report by the Department of Justice on gender-based violence in Somalia, gender-based violence is often underreported and is often solved among families. This lack of data is confirmed by UN Women’s Global Database on Violence Against Women. In both categories regarding physical or sexual intimate partner violence as well as the category regarding non-partner violence, it states that “Official National Statistics Not Available.” However, it does list a 45% prevalence rate of child marriage and 98% prevalence rate for FGM.
FGM essentially illustrates the underlying and widespread negative and violent treatment of women. It is a step towards womanhood, where even more discriminatory and violent action is experienced by girls and women. A main reason FGM is performed on young girls is to ensure that the woman is a virgin (i.e. pure and clean) for her husband. As aforementioned, Somalia has a moderately high prevalence of child marriage – so, in the eyes of the family and society, a girl must be cut and well healed prior to such marriage. In a previous post I talked about a specific situation regarding a child marriage and the treatment of a 15 year old who was re-cut open by her new husband. This is evidence of the sexual and gender-based violence that is rampant in Somalia.
Somalia is lacking in the available protection for these girls and women. In the same report by the Department of Justice, it states that Somalia has legislation criminalizing rape, but such legislation is very rarely, if ever, enforced. Additionally, there are no current laws that prohibit domestic violence, spousal rape, or sexual harassment. The report states that, according to the United Nations Human Rights Council, “rape or domestic violence is treated as a civil dispute, often resolved through either the payment of money or a forced marriage between the victim and the perpetrator.” Furthermore, UNICEF reported that approximately 76% of women 15-49 years old consider a husband to be justified in hitting or beating his wife “if his wife burns the food, argues with him, goes out without telling him or neglects the children or refuses sexual relations…” This exemplifies just how deeply-rooted this issue is – so much so that a majority of women in the country think that it’s okay and that their husband is justified in treating them this way.
When we reframe these issues of violence and trauma as health issues, we are challenging our “Western” or biomedical way of thinking about health, illness, and medicine as discussed in Week 1. These issues aren’t things we can throw prescription medication at to fix. These issues are imbedded in culture and community, and in order to start turning things around for women in cultures like Somalia will require a different approach than what we’re used to in the United States and it will take a lot of time to progress. We do not think about health and illness in this way and we seem to always be looking for and providing a quick fix to acute issues and aggressive approaches to chronic issues. Even with chronic issues – we don’t generally prefer a long-term approach.
I think that the intergenerational trauma that results from FGM and other violence against women in Somalia also challenges are biomedical model of medicine. I think this is something we can relate to a little more – domestic violence between husband and wife can make a son think it’s okay to beat women and a daughter think it’s okay for her husband to beat her, and the cycle continues. Similar to such a situation, a mother undergoes FGM because her mother did and she puts her daughter through the same thing. Daughters are taught by their mothers and grandmothers that it’s okay for her husband to beat her in whatever circumstance. Trauma like this causes a lot of mental health issues – and that is definitely something we need a lot of improvement on in biomedicine and in the United States in general. Again, these issues cannot be solved with medication – and that’s what biomedicine relies on.