WOMEN Traditional Somali and Islamic law both accord limited rights to females, and although improved property rights for women stand as one of the few positive legacies of the Siad Barre regime, Somaliland remains a strongly male-dominated society. Polygyny, the form of polygamy wherein men can take several wives simultaneously, but women are restricted to one husband at any given time, is still widely condoned and practiced. Furthermore, marriages are frequently arranged indirectly between the groom and the family of the bride, without the latter’s consent, and men have far more latitude than women when it comes to initiating a divorce.
According to a recent UNICEF report, the prevalence of female genital mutilation (FGM) in the Somali region stands at 95%. An extreme form of FGM is practiced, involving the total removal of the clitoris and labia minora, and the suturing together of the labia majora to leave one small hole for urination and menstruation. FGM in Somaliland is mostly performed by untrained village midwives, using unsterilized instruments such as knives, razors or even broken glass, on unanesthetized pre-pubescent girls, sometimes when they are only four years old. Many victims of this cruel, painful and unnecessary procedure suffer immediate medical problems, occasionally with fatal results. Long-term complications include genital malformation, recurrent urinary infections, and increased vulnerability to HIV transmission, and obstetric complications that can result in the death of the woman and/or her unborn child.
Despite the ubiquity of FGM in traditional Somali society, there are signs that Somaliland might be the first country in the region to outlaw the practice. This is largely down to the influence of former exiles such as Nimco Ali, a Somaliland-born British campaigner who co-founded the non-profit anti-FGM organization Daughters of Eve (dofeve.org). Indeed, in June 2017, the United Nations Population Fund announced that 1,000 community members in Hargeisa had committed to advocate for the total abandonment of FGM in the region. As a result, the build-up to the November 2017 election saw all three presidential candidates, including the winner Muse Bihi Abdi, commit to eradicating FGM from the country under their administration.