Muna Hassan: ‘One of us mentioned vaginas and Michael Gove went really red!’

muna hassan

Muna Hassan, young anti-FGM campaigner: ‘Education about FGM has to happen from a young age.’ Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Observer


The young anti-FGM campaigner who told David Cameron to ‘grow a pair’ has helped to get the issue on the political agenda this year

There aren’t many teenagers who can say they told the prime minister to “grow a pair” on Newsnight, and got what they wanted as a result. Now 21, campaigner Muna Hassan cringes as she remembers it, shrinking in her cafe seat. “My mum was like: ‘You told David Cameron what?’” Hassan was subsequently grounded – but it was the attention-grabbing moment her campaign needed. “If that comment got people talking about FGM [female genital mutilation] then I really don’t mind, because people who never knew about it are reading up on it now.”

Born in Sweden to Somali parents, Hassan and her family migrated to England when she was eight, settling in Bristol. It was there that she first heard about FGM, aged 13, through local charity Integrate. Doing her own research, she was shocked to discover that the practice was rife in Somalia. “The next day, me and three other girls decided we had to do something. There’s this openness now around FGM, but when we started campaigning, everyone was just like: [she pulls a face of disgust and waves her hands] ‘We don’t wanna know.’”

This has been a pivotal year for getting FGM on the political agenda in Britain. Although the practice, most prevalent in African and Middle Eastern communities, has been outlawed in the UK since the 1980s, FGM has continued to occur, with British ministers ignoring the issue for fear of being deemed culturally insensitive or racist. As Hassan and other campaigners have argued for years, however, FGM is a form of child abuse – race shouldn’t come into it. It was only in March this year that the first prosecutions came about.

In February, Hassan and five others from Integrate (including Fahma Mohamed, the face of the campaign) took a Guardian-backed petition with over 230,000 signatures to the then education secretary Michael Gove, calling for him to remind schools of their duty to teach the risks of FGM. “It was hilariously awkward for all of us because he was just so uncomfortable discussing anything relating to women’s private parts,” Hassan says, laughing at the memory. “One of the girls mentioned vaginas and he went really red!”

How did it feel when he agreed to write to every school in England? “We thought – sending a letter out to all schools, that’s great, but how many will act upon it? As a minister, there’s still so much he could do. It would have been great if he’d agreed to do training for all frontline staff – if all teachers knew to look out for signs of FGM, they could deal with it. Plus, education about FGM has to happen from a young age. That’s our biggest focus now.”

Alongside the petition, presenting at the Department for International Development-hosted Girl Summit in July and the launch of Girl Generation (an African-led anti-FGM movement) in October, Hassan recalls another highlight of her year: “Meeting Malala [Yousafzai, Pakistani schoolgirl turned education activist who won the Nobel peace prize]. That was mind-blowing. I got a call on a Sunday morning saying ‘Get ready, we’ll be at yours in 30 minutes – you’re going to meet Malala,’ and I thought, ‘Am I dreaming?!’” Was she starstruck? “I thought I was going to be, but she’s so natural, and very teenager-y; you forget that she’s an internationally acclaimed activist when you’re with her because she seems so normal and jokes around.” Not unlike Hassan then, whose frequent hand-over-mouth schoolgirl giggling is completely incongruous with her powerfully articulate, no-nonsense approach to discussing gender-based violence.

We meet in a cafe in central London, near to where Hassan is currently living with her aunt while studying for a degree in child development. Hassan still does a lot of work with Integrate, and is looking forward to their conference in Bristol in February next year. “We’ve invited Nicky Morgan [Gove’s successor], who we hope sees FGM like we do – as part of gender-based violence. There’ll be different workshops the entire day about how to teach issues around FGM.”

Talking about the future, Hassan seems optimistic; the naysayers who slowed FGM campaigning a few years ago are now few and far between. “Now if someone says anything [negative] about [our work] it’s more funny than anything. When it’s a man, we’re like: ‘Why are you getting so defensive about vaginas?’” She smiles knowingly. “As soon as you say that, they shut up


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Somalia sexual offences bill hailed as vital step towards lasting change

Somali womenSomali women

A trio of young Somali women at a camp for internally displaced people. Sexual and gender-based violence is rife in Somalia. Photograph: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images



NAIROBI, Kenya — The first bill to define and address sexual offences in Somalia is expected to be presented to the cabinet before the end of this year, updating legislation that has been in place since 1930.

The bill will define rape as a crime against a person, rather than a crime against morality, as it characterised at present. It will criminalise gang rape and introduce legislation against child marriage, human trafficking, sexual harassment and offences committed against vulnerable groups such as internally displaced people.

The new law will also outline the role public officials and police should play in investigating and prosecuting cases, in addition to criminalising the obstruction of justice, protecting the identity of injured parties and witnesses, and – in a major shift for Somalia’s clan-based society – prohibiting the out-of-court settlement of sexual offences cases.

However, due to religious sensibilities, the bill does not address marital rape or domestic violence. The latter is widespread in Somalia.

“If you want to affect real change this is not the solution, but it is one part, a very important process,” said Antonia Mulvey, the executive director of Legal Action Worldwide (Law), a Nairobi-based NGO working with the Somali government to draft the bill.

“Without the legal framework in place we are not going to be able to make the other changes. People argue that we are unable to arrest, prosecute or convict because they don’t have the legal framework. This gives them the legal framework.”

The UN reported nearly 800 cases of sexual and gender-based violence in Mogadishu alone over a six-month period last year, although the majority of abuses go unreported. One-third of the victims are children.

Tahlil Ahmed, a senior legal adviser from Somalia who supports Law, said:“We intended to criminalise all aspects of violence without mentioning domestic [violence] because some people believe they have that right, that you are undermining Islam.”

LAW has issued a report explaining that sharia law, which is in force in Somalia, does not conflict with women’s rights.

“Beating your wife and hurting her is not permissible in Islam, as is widely thought,” said Ahmed. “Hurting your wife is wrong in Islam.”

Abdifatah Hassan Ali, who works with the Somali Women Development Centre, said: “Islam uplifts women’s rights in every aspect of life. There is misinterpretation of the Islamic teachings made by the Somali community, and they use it as a tool to oppress women.”

Hassan Ali said the ingrained Somali culture of women as second-class citizens was a challenge to drafting the bill. “Men see sexual offences as an issue for women – they don’t consider it an area in which they should be involved,” he said. Disseminating the message to men will be a critical aspect of implementation, should the bill be passed, he said.

Crimes committed by security forces have been left out of the bill, as they were deemed too sensitive to mention and could have prevented the new legislation from being passed.

The UN estimates that sexual violence committed by armed forces ranges from 30% to 70% of total offences.

In addition to the national army, the African Union has a force of 22,000 troops in Somalia. A Human Rights Watch report found that AU troops have gang-raped women and girls as young as 12 and traded food aid for sex.

The sexual offences bill is not among the 23 priority pieces of legislation going before the Somali parliament before the end of this year’s session. Mulvey has been meeting European donor countries and urging them to push the government to add the sexual offences bill to the priority list.


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The heartbreaking moment a Kenyan girl is sold into marriage

 A man holds a girl as she tries to escape when she realized she is to be married. (Siegfried Modola/Reuters)


A man held on to a girl after she tried to escape when she realized she is to be married in Kenya on Dec. 7, 2014. (Siegfried Modola/Reuters)

In a village about 50 miles from Marigat in Baringo County, Kenya, among a tribe that practices genital mutilation as a rite of womanhood, a teenage girl is sold into an arranged marriage. Her price is 20 goats, 10 cows and a few camels, paid to her family over several weeks. And her reaction is heartbreaking.

Dressed in bright-colored clothes and ceremonial beads, she tries to escape, balling up a fist and kicking her bare feet from the ground when a man picks her up from behind and pulls her away from her home. The scene, which unfolded over the weekend in the Pokot tribe, was captured and described by Reuters photographer Siegfried Modola. His photos document a Pokot tradition in which parents give away their daughters, usually at the start of adolescence. The girls are sold for a dowry and married to men in the tribe.

The girl’s family claimed she didn’t know about the arrangement her father made with her future husband, Reuters reported. If they told her, they feared, she would run away. A group of men from the tribe came to collect her and led her to a two-day ceremony in the village.

Within the Pokot tribe, female circumcision is seen as a girl’s transition to womanhood. Although it’s now illegal in Kenya, the tribe still allows it and, in fact, forces all girls to do it before marriage. The practice is also known as female genital mutilation (FGM) and, in many countries, is considered a human rights violation. It can lead to severe bleeding, infections, infertility and death. Some 125 million girls and women in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East have experienced it, according to the United Nations.

Earlier this year, Kenya created a prosecution unit and a hotline for girls and women to report such abuse.

“If we get this information beforehand, it will actually assist in prevention of the practice because we can organize our officers on the ground to raid the place and rescue the girls,” Christine Nanjala, head of the anti-FGM prosecution unit, told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In October, Modola shot a series of photos in rural Kenya documenting Pokot’s circumcision ritual.

“They believe when a girl is circumcised, she is an adult and she is ready to get married,” anti-FGM advocate Rebecca Chebet told WXYZ-TV. “Now girls as young as nine are getting circumcised because their father wants a dowry.”

WARNING: The images below may be disturbing because of their graphic nature.

Over the weekend, the Pokot tribe held an initiation ceremony for girls who were transitioning into womanhood.

More than 100 young women took part in the ceremony, which included a ritual where the girls punch a young bull into submission. The men in the community then kill with a hit to the head and a spear to the heart, Reuters reported.

Girls in the community sang and danced all evening and through the next day during the initiation ceremony. At the end, they were allowed to dance with the boys, under supervision from the elders.

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Somali government, activists pledge to reverse grim human rights record


Somali singers wearing hats advocating “No Torture” line up before performing at a Human Rights Day event outside of Mogadishu Central Prison on December 10, 2013. [AU UN IST PHOTO / Tobin Jones]

MOGADISHU — Human rights conditions in Somalia remain grim, with assassinations, targeted bombings, harassment, rape and the mass displacement of people an ongoing problem in some parts of the country, according to Mogadishu-based Peace and Human Rights Network (PHRN).

“All those abuses are contrary to human rights, Islamic law and the good Somali culture,” PHRN said in a statement released Wednesday (December 10th) in recognition of international Human Rights Day.

The report noted that human rights activists, journalists, religious leaders, politicians and women in particular are subjected to continuous intimidation and human rights abuses.

“Those abuses are happening to Somalis every day. Among the latest incidents was the [attack] in the town of Baidoa in Bay region, which killed numerous people including reporters,” the report said. “There are also transgressions that occur in the capital city of Mogadishu where Somali civilians and people who are well-known within the society have been killed.”

The report said the security situation in Mogadishu is largely unstable. “Recently it has seemed as though it is getting out of hand, which can result in a hopeless environment if things keep going the way they are,” PHRN said.

PHRN chairperson Zahra Omar Malin stressed how important it is going forward to ensure the return of peace and the confidence of the Somali people.

“The people have been struggling for more than 20 years with war and situations of constant fear,” she told Sabahi. “Discrimination and widespread lack of protection for human rights take place in Somalia, even though there is a central government that is recognised by the international community.”

Malin urged the government to take steps to ensure security so that human rights abuses can be deterred.

“Also, there have to be complete investigations and accountability for those who commit these transgressions so that they can be prosecuted,” she said. “A peaceful environment has to be created to instil confidence in the Somali public, which is living amid political, cultural, economic and security chaos.”

Malin said PHRN would continue to work alongside government agencies and civil society groups to advance and safeguard human rights.

“In the coming year, we want to ensure that prisoners are not tortured, that they are visited regularly, and that the prison conditions are good so that gender-based and clan discrimination can be prevented,” she said.

In the coming year, the organisation’s core objectives will include engaging parliament to ensure it passes and implements the children’s rights law, partnering with other Somali human rights organisations to improve results on shared goals, and launching a campaign to combat rampant rape, Malin said.

Journalists under attack

For his part, National Union of Somali Journalists Secretary General Mohamed Ibrahim said journalists continue to suffer human rights abuses in carrying out their work.

“We have recorded the killings of at least five journalists this year, while another six were wounded. Two were killed in Baidoa, two in Mogadishu and the fifth was killed in Galkayo,” he told Sabahi. “Also, there have been about 30 cases in Mogadishu where journalists were arrested. Two of them are still in jail. In Somaliland, 45 journalists were arrested.”

Ibrahim called on the Somali government to bring to court two journalists who were working for Sky FM and Shabelle Media Network, or to let them go free, since they have been held in custody since August without charges.

“We want the coming year to be a symbol for freedom. We have urged journalists and media houses to report incidents involving human rights abuses so that there can be a defence against it,” he said.

“If an incident is not reported, [abuse] will increase. However, if it is reported and the people are informed, it will result in holding the security agencies accountable and prevent future incidents,” he said.

Somali government ‘committed to human rights’

Somali government officials did not respond to Sabahi’s inquiries regarding what the administration is doing to address human rights abuses in Somalia.

Delivering remarks during the Human Rights Day event in Mogadishu Wednesday, Minister of Women and Human Rights Khadijo Mohamed Diriye said that while Somalia has participated in and is a signatory to historic agreements that have established international standards for the protection and promotion of human rights, it has not been able to live up to those standards.

“The reality that exists in our country today is that Somalia has become famous for its abuse of human rights, for being a country that does not hold those who transgress human rights to account, and for being the lowest ranking nation in terms of the protection of human rights,” Diriye said.

Despite a myriad of challenges including insufficient public resources and capability, the government is committed to reverse that perception and ensure Somalia can uphold its commitment to human rights, she said.

For example, the ministry is working on a national action plan to end gender-based violence as well as the discrimination of minorities and vulnerable members of society, she said, adding that legislative bills on human rights and child protection have been drafted.

“The Somali federal government is standing for the protection of human rights, and that can be seen by the work the ministry is carrying out,” she said.

Source   Sabahi


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Parents in praise of FGM as 27 girls undergo the ‘cut’


Anti-FGM campaign: Participants march in the streets of Eldoret Town during the African Launch of the Girl Generation Campaign to end Female Genital Mutilation on December 10, 2014. Over 25 girls underwent the ‘cut’ in Elgeyo Marakwet County on December 12, 2014.

Twenty seven teenage girls were forcibly circumcised on Friday even as some of their parents supported the rite of passage.

The circumcision took place in two villages in Marakwet East, Elgeyo-Marakwet county.

The girls gnashed their teeth in pain as the circumcisers performed the ritual on the day Kenyans marked  51 years of independence.

This was the highest number of girls in the area circumcised after a long time.


Deputy County Commissioner Hussein Alaso summoned the area chief and  police boss to explain why they  allowed the circumcision.

The girls, aged between  six and 14, faced the knife in Tinyar and Kapkobutwo villages of Chugor sub-location, Kibaimwa location for more than an hour from 5.30am.

The initiates are pupils at Chugor Girls’ Boarding and Chesetan Primary schools.

Some of the girls’ parents, who spoke to the Saturday Nation, praised the practice.

“The government should not interfere with us. The children we have circumcised today (Friday) are ours and we should be let alone.

The government should tackle security problems like terrorism and banditry,” a parent said.

Her two children are pupils at Chesetan Primary School.

Meanwhile, the blame game between  the local chief and the police broke out as soon as news of the incident spread.

Kibaimwa Location chief  Peter Chelimo and his assistant Samuel Kisang defended themselves and blamed officers at Mogil Police Station for failing to stop the circumcisions even though they had been told in advance.

“We have summoned the Kibaimwa location chief and Mogil Police Station police chief.

We are in a crisis meeting and they only have up to this evening (Friday) to produce suspects or face disciplinary action,” said Mr Alaso.

The administrator added they were trying to identify the parents and find out where the girls were hidden.


The chairperson of a board created to fight female circumcision, Mrs Linah Kilimo, who is from the area condemned the vice.

“We have come a long way in trying to eliminate the practice. We will not relent in the war against this vice.”

Area MP Kangogo Bowen and County Woman Representative Susan Chebet also condemned the circumcision.

Source  Daily nation

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Abaalmarinta nabada ee Nobel oo si wadajir ah loo guddoonsiiyay Malala iyo Kailash


Gabadha u dooda arrimaha waxbarashada ee dalka Pakistan Malala Yousafzai iyo ninka u dooda xuquuqda carruurta dalka Hindiya Kailash Satyarthi ayaa si wadajir ah loo guddoonsiiyay abaalmarinta nabada ee Nobel.

Guddiga abaalmarinta Nobel ayaa ku tilmaamay inay yihiin dadka sanadkan la guddoonsiiyay “Homuudka Nabada”. Ms Yousafzai ayaa sheegtay in ay u taagan tahay xaqa carruurta la iloobay ayna codkooda kor u qaado si loo maqlo.

Mr Satyarthi ayaa sheegay in helitaanka abaalmarinta ay u tahay fursad weyn si uu sii wado dadaalkiisa uu ugaga hortagayo addoonsiga carruurta.

Guddoomiyaha guddiga abaalmarinta Nobela ayaa guddoonsiiyay Ms Yousafzai iyo Mr Satyarthi abaalmarintan iyadoo uu goobjoog ka ahaa boqor Herald V ee dalka Norway.

Malala ayaa waxa ay ahayd 11 sano jir markii ay bilowday inay u doodo xuquuqda carruurta gaar ahaan gabdhaha kadib markii ururka Daalibaan ee dalka Pakistan uu ka mamnuucay gabhaha inay iskuulada aadaan. Hase yeeshee gabadhan ayaa waxaa dhaawac uu ka soo gaaray madaxa kadib markii labo nin ay isku dayeen inay dilaan.

Labo sano kahor ayaa Malala la geeyay dalka Ingiriska si loogu soo daweeyo waxaana qoyskeeda ay haatan ku nool yihiin magaalada Birmingham halkaa oo ay wax ku barato.

Ms Yousafzai oo ah 17 sano jir ayaa noqotay qofkii ugu da’ yara ee abid ku guuleysta abaalmarinta Nabada ee Nobel waxaana la sheegay in ay dooneyso inay mar uun madax ka noqoto dalkeeda Pakistan.

abaalmarin nobel

abaalmarin nobel (2) abaalmarin nobel (3) abaalmarin nobel (4) abaalmarin nobel (5) abaalmarin nobel (6)Xigasho  jowhar

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Young Somali women find experience, community in startup boutique


Sisterhood Boutique was started by group of young Somali women who noticed how much fun their brothers and male classmates had running a coffee shop at the Brian Coyle Community Center in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood.

By Jay Walljasper

At first glance, the new Sisterhood Boutique on Riverside Avenue next door to Augsburg College and the University of Minnesota’s West Bank campus looks like many other spunky startups around town.

It’s packed with racks of blouses, jackets, dresses, slacks and shorts, displays of boots, shoes and jewelry, shelves of purses and bags, a vase of sunflowers and scarves hanging on the walls. The selection ranges in style from contemporary to retro to East African. This is clearly the work of women who have applied their talents to transform an empty storefront into a destination for shoppers looking for fashions at affordable prices.

All true. But there’s more to the Sisterhood story, which defies all the usual expectations. It was started by group of young Somali women who noticed how much fun their brothers and male classmates had running a coffee shop at the Brian Coyle Community Center in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood.

“We felt like there were not a lot of activities for girls in the community,” remembers Khadra Fiqi, an assistant at the store who was a Minneapolis South High School student at the time. “So we had a meeting of girls to talk about what we wanted to do. There’s a strength in girls and we wanted to do something for our community to create more opportunity.”

They agreed to start a women’s clothing store, and quickly came up with the name Sisterhood of the Traveling Scarf, based partly on the movie and novel “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.” And based partly on the fact that, as Fiqi says, “scarves are something that unite all women, and we are a sisterhood of women.”

“We went around to other stores to see what businesses are like,” recalls Fiqi, now a first-year student at Metro State University, “and we learned a lot about commitment — if you’re committed to something you can make it happen. Women with passion and power can help ourselves and help our community.”

From sorting to selling

Fiqi explains that she and her colleagues do everything it takes to run the business, “from sorting the clothes, tagging them, cleaning the store, being at the front as a cashier. I always thought of myself as a science person, not a business person. But now I am going to minor in business in college.”

The experience of opening the store helped Fiqi feel more at home in Minneapolis. “I was really surprised about all the support from people we don’t really know — people at Augsburg College and around the community.”

Stella Richardson, a management major at Augsburg, was one of those who pitched into help launch the boutique. While still in high school, she had started the Express Yourself Clothing store on Selby Avenue in St. Paul as part of an after-school youth program. “I told the girls about my experience and came to their meetings. As they were opening the store, I taught some business classes to them at the Brian Coyle Center.”

“They asked all the same questions I was asking when I started my store,”  Richardson says. She notes that their boutique was even funded by one of the same organizations that financed her business, Sundance Family Foundation. Other funders of the Sisterhood Boutique were Augsburg College, Fairview Health Services, Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, the Marbrook Foundation and the Women Investing in the Next Generation (WINGs) Fund of the Greater Twin Cities United Way.

Augsburg students helped them devise a business plan, implement a marketing plan and design a logo, and offered informal advice on how to attract young customers studying and working on the nearby campuses of Augsburg, the U of M, St. Catherine University and the University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital.

“The store is changing the way the community perceives girls — in Somali culture girls are the most protected part of the community,” says Amano Dube, director of the Brian Coyle Community Center. “This project shows what they can do on their own.”

A breakthrough

Dube said that when a group of local leaders involved with the Faith in the City initiative toured the neighborhood — including Rulon Stacey, CEO of Fairview Health Services, which owns a brick storefront on Riverside Avenue that is adjacent to its University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital — “Augsburg President Paul Pribbenow brought them to the Brian Coyle Center and I took them into the leadership training class with the young people, who told them about the store.”

“Mary Laurel True [Augsburg’s director of community engagement] was leading the tour, and she suddenly announces that the girls would really like to have that building on Riverside Avenue,” remembers Pribbenow. Twenty-four hours later the president of Fairview called Pribbenow and said the boutique could have the building for free.

“We had the space available,” Stacey says, “and want to be a meaningful partner in the neighborhood. We’re really excited about it.”

Stacey was on hand at the boutique’s Grand Opening last summer, posing for a photo with the young proprietors in front of shop windows artfully displaying sundresses. Indeed, it was an all-out community event. Amano Dube, Mary Laurel True, Stella Richardson and a number of young shoppers were part of the celebration.

“I’m really excited about it,” said shopper Elena Eveslage. “It’s a good place to get good, cheap clothes, and a great opportunity for young women to learn business skills.”

20 trained so far

Fadumo Mohamed, a student at Minneapolis Southwest High School, was part of planning meetings and jumped at the chance to work at the store. “This is my first real job. It’s really good here, getting closer to people in the community, working with people my own age, learning about business. It will all be on my résumé.”

Store manager Laurine Chang, who is also a youth social entrepreneur coordinator for Pillsbury United Communities, notes that 20 young women have been trained so far to work in the store. For three months they “learn about leadership, empowerment, personal and professional development, how to engage in the community, financial literacy, customer service, time management and business management.”

“The girls themselves felt there was a need for more opportunities for women in the neighborhood,” Chang says. “This project really is young people taking the initiative by responding to what the community needs


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