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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.

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