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Fatima’s Story – Challenging Harmful Attitudes and Norms for Gender Equality and Empowerment in Somalia project

‘’At the age of 12, my mother took me to the nearby village [...] where I found other young girls [...] brought to be cut. Many mothers from the village had grouped in the tents to give support to the woman circumciser who was to perform the cut. […] I thought I’d die due to the pain.’’ shares Fatima, a 37-year-old mother of 8 girls.

The impact of the genital mutilation prevented Fatima from completing her education and schooling.

After she got married, Fatima became pregnant and gave birth to her 8 daughters under very difficult and painful circumstances.

‘’As my daughters grew older, my heart clenched with fear and apprehension at the thought of subjecting them to the same pain I had suffered. I couldn’t bear the thought of them experiencing the same fear, the same sense of violation, the same loss of bodily autonomy.’’ she explains.

Anitha Sivasankaran is a youth activist based in Sri Lanka and member of the Refugee Education Council.
Credit: Save the Children

Later, Fatima joined a community group organized by the Canada funded CHANGES project: Challenging Harmful Attitudes and Norms for Gender Equality and Empowerment in Somalia, which aims to prevent gender-based violence (GBV), including female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C).

Through the CHANGES project, Fatima began raising awareness of the harmful effects of FGM/C, including the physical, psychological and emotional scars it leaves behind. She learned that FGM/C is a violation of human rights and that the practice is perpetuated by lack of consent and discriminatory social norms. Fatima was determined to protect her daughters from FGM/C. She would not let them suffer the same pain she had endured even if it meant challenging social norms and facing stigma from her community.

Fatima’s husband supported her decision and today, Fatima and her husband advocate for the rights of women and girls in their community. Together they speak out against FGM/C, share their personal stories, and educate others about the harmful effects of this practice.

Fatima’s courage and determination inspired and transformed a community. In her village, attitudes are shifting and more parents are recognizing the harmful effects of FGM/C and the importance of protecting girls’ bodily autonomy.

The CHANGES project is one of many projects Canada supports to advance women and girls’ rights, health and well-being. Together, and by working with key partners like Save the Children Canada, we can end all forms of GBV.

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