[Below you will find a first-person briefing of the men’s group from the perspective of Breaking the Silence facilitator Clara Sarr (see left). We are very grateful to Clara for her wonderful work. As an American married to a native of Senegal, Clara brings a unique and valuable perspective to the group.]
“I was the facilitator for the men’s group at the third Breaking the Silence Worskshop on Sunday, April 29. I posed several scenarios to a group of 12-15 Somali men who came to support the effort. Every man in the workshop added to the conversation about FGM, contributing powerful feelings about the practice. The men were in agreement that FGM goes against Islam, and is cruel to women and results in health problems. They feel this is enough to change people’s minds about the old, cultural practice. It seems like the word has spread quickly within this community, and these men are unanimously supportive of the Breaking the Silence program. They seemed to be eager to speak up against the practice, speaking in both Somali and English, translated by Guhad Ahmed.
As I challenged them to think of FGM more critically, they maintained that they feel the practice is truly dying out, as more and more people realize it is not a practice backed by Islam, and it creates numerous, permanent health problems for women. These are not desirable outcomes for men nor the women. Each man agreed that FGM is an outmoded and unnecessary tradition. One man stated that although they believe the custom started as a cultural practice to give men more pleasure during sex and to ensure his new wife’s virginity, he felt it was not worth the price of her happiness, and that the man received little pleasure when his wife was suffering. All of the men in the workshop agreed it was not beneficial for the men or the women, and infibulation is destined to die out as the culture evolves away from a misogynistic practice. Our special guest, Abdikadir Yasi, stated that he believes most women now under age 20 have not experienced FGM. Nevertheless, the men agreed it is important to speak of the issue in order to ensure a universal abolition of the practice and to support survivors better.
Some of the most moving moments from my perspective, as facilitator, were when two men spoke of their experiences witnessing and assisting the birth of their children. I brought up this scenario to illuminate the complex health problems that can arise as a result of FGM. She was guessing that it was uncommon for a Somali man to attend a birth, but found, against custom, that one man had witnessed his wife’s birth here in American hospital. She struggled with labor for 8 hours in extreme pain, resulting in a C-Section. In his view, the FGM had contributed to his wife’s struggle of difficult labor. Another elder in the group spoke up and said that in Somalia, he had assisted his wife in more than one of her births. He also testified that FGM was haram, (unclean or forbidden, from an Islamic perspective), as someone who has seen its affects closely. He was very happy to see the work of BTS going on.
The men felt the risk of being sent to FGM practitioners elsewhere low. They don’t know of women who are still practicing the procedure.
Men expressed interest in next time discussing more how to better support survivors. Men expressed that they feel this is a family issue, one everyone should know about and they would like to have an opportunity to all speak together as a group and share experiences. Also, there was interest in showing the power point presentation shown at our community event in Amherst in February. Hopefully, our next meeting, on May 10, will prove to be revealing and educational as people open up and share feelings and information about this practice, ripe for cultural change.”