Refugee Voices: Advocating Against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
23 October 2018

Caaliyah* advocates against Female Genital Mutliation.

Caaliyah* grew up in Garowe, Somalia. In 2007, at the age of 15 she was forced to leave her home after Al Shabaab murdered her mother. She recalls coming home to find her brothers crying. She did not know what had happened and no one would tell her, until she saw some people carrying her mother’s body inside. Al Shabaab extremists have been killing innocent people in Somalia for years, and the violence continues today. Just last year, in October 2017, Al Shabaab extremist set off a truck bomb in Mogadishu killing 500 and injuring hundreds of civilians.

Shortly after the tragedy of losing her mother, Caaliyah and her entire family left Somalia to seek refuge in Nairobi, Kenya where her brother owned a shop. Later, in 2011, she travelled to South Africa, hidden in the back of a fresh produce truck with her infant son. Although Caaliyah had a Somalian passport, she entered the country illegally due to fears of deportation. The process of coming into South Africa, she says, included bribing immigrations officials which she could not afford. She was greeted by her husband who was renting a house in Johannesburg.

She received asylum status after applying and petitioning for six years. She could not access any services without refugee status, but with her asylum status she was able to gain employment. The process of obtaining a refugee identification document has been tedious and discouraging; she has been told to return several times. Caaliyah has also faced difficulties settling into the community. In 2014, she survived an attempted abduction by four men, while trying to enter her home. She has experienced other attacks as well, however she has found solace in the support of the police.

Back home in Somalia, Caaliyah experienced Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a traditional circumcision ceremony, at the age of eight. She recalls vomiting from the excruciating pain. She experiences complications and pain from urination, menstruation, and sexual intercourse. Natural childbirth is not an option for her, but rather she has to give birth by caesarean section. Caaliyah participates in the JRS FGM support group, a safe space for women to share their experiences and support one another. In Somalia, many survivors of FGM are shamed into silence. Caaliyah stands firmly against FGM and has had challenges with her brother, in trying to defend her nieces from experiencing this circumcision. She speaks up within her family and among friends so that girls in the next generation don’t have to have the same experiences that she did.

Caaliyah is still hopeful for a better life in South Africa. She expresses gratitude for JRS, which has assisted her through emotional support in dealing with trauma and through financial support. Through the help of JRS, Caaliyah is able to send her children to school and travel to and from the FGM support group.

**All names were changed for the privacy and safety of those involved. 

Press Contact Information
Mr. Tim Smith
+27 11 618 3404