Hawo’s Decision

Hawo’s Decision

Publication info


Hawo has refused to have her daughters circumcised in line with Somali tradition. The marriage between Hawo's grandfather, an Eritrean, and her grandmother, a Somali, rendered the family "tribeless," causing much suffering, especially during times of war. Hawo lives in a refugee camp in Kenya, after fleeing conflict in Somalia.

I have three daughters. In 2002, I told my husband I was not prepared to have them circumcised, as is the tradition of all Somali families. When my husband's mother heard, she complained and tried to force my husband to circumcise them when I was not around. My sisters also complained, saying it was going to bring stigma to my family.  When I refused, my mother-in-law forced her son to divorce me. He no longer comes to visit his daughters and gives us no support. He has a new wife.  My decision is making life hard in the camp, but I will never go back on it. I have seen the terrible health problems that girls and women suffer who have been circumcised. There is terrible pain that often lasts a lifetime, and women have terrible problems giving birth.

The type of female genital mutilation practiced here is full infibulation at about 5 to 7 years old. As a mother I could never do that to my children. I love them too much.  The girls are often bullied in school and the younger twins, who are 11, have both been badly beaten. One suffers from partial deafness as the injury affected her eardrum. Children shout at them, saying they are dirty.  I was working as a counselor for CARE in the camp on women's issues, but I have had to stop to look after my children. They were suffering so much bullying and I now have to walk them to and from school.  I try to make other women realize the dangers of what they do to their children, but there are very few women who have had the courage to do what I have done.

I think it is because I have lived with discrimination my whole life that I don't care as long as my daughters don't have to suffer the physical and emotional pain of circumcision.  My hope is to continue trying to make women aware of their rights. My biggest fear is that someone from my family will take my daughters one night and try to circumcise them. I have no protection and no man in my life to protect us.

Get the facts*:

  • Female genital cutting includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons
  • The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women
  • Procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, infertility as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths
  • 125 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of the practice
  • Female genital cutting is mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15
  • Female genital cutting is a violation of the human rights  of girls and women
  • More girls, women and men girls are saying no to the cutting, and more communities than ever before are abandoning the centuries-old tradition

Keep learning:

* The World Health Organization and UNICEF