Somali Medical Pioneer Continues Battle To Stop FGM

When she was a young girl, Edna Adan Ismail’s mother and grandmother circumcised her in a traditional ceremony while her father, a doctor, was away. That evening, he returned home, enraged at what had happened. “What have you done?” he asked Ismail’s mother and grandmother. Cutting the young girl, he said, was “haraam” — a sin. She was only seven or eight, but Ismail knew what had happened was wrong. The event, and her father’s reaction, would have a lasting impact.

Years later, Ismail followed in her father’s footsteps, pursuing a career in medicine. She studied abroad and became a pioneer in health care in Somaliland, an autonomous region of Somalia. In 1965, the World Health Organization made Ismail the first Somali appointed to a senior civil servant position. She spent decades with the organization working in Somalia, Somaliland and Djibouti, and caring for patients from across the Horn of Africa, many of whom were refugees.

In 1976, Ismail attended a health conference in Sudan that changed her next steps. Ismail, then a director in Somaliland’s Ministry of Health, had traveled with a team of doctors to learn about developments in the field. At the conference, Ismail heard, for the first time, people in a Muslim country openly discuss the harm caused by female circumcision, also called female genital mutilation, or FGM.

Source: Voice of America