Irish Muslim activist takes on FGM

Ifrah Ahmed. Photo:

In past posts, we’ve attempted to clarify issues around Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Female Circumcision (FC), and their perceived relation to religion and culture. Here are the facts: Islam, Christianity, nor any other world religion mandates any type of FC or FGM. Some forms of FC are considered FGM, depending upon the type of procedure. The practices are either forced upon women, expected of women, or in the rare case, embraced by women. FC and FGM are performed primarily on African girls and women or those from African backgrounds living in the West. A few countries in Asia have also been documented as practicing FC or FGM.

FGM has become a topic of focus for local activists in Africa and Asia, as well as the broader international community. Activists fighting against FGM have found a champion in an unlikely place—Ireland, where a significant number of women (over 3,000) have been subjected to it. Although substantial, the number pales in comparison to the 140 million women and girls worldwide who have undergone the procedure.

Ifrah Ahmed, a 23-year-old, Somali-born, Muslim activist has only been in Ireland for 6 years, but she’s already played a key role in shaping Irish policy regarding the practice. Ahmed underwent double mutilation as a child and still suffers from serious problems as a result of the procedures. She says that sometimes the pain is so bad that “I fall down and I feel like I’m going to die.”

Thanks to Ahmed’s tireless efforts, the Irish parliament passed a bill banning the practice of FGM in Ireland and making it illegal for anyone to take a child from Ireland to another country to undergo the procedure. Ahmed says the passage of the bill means that hospital staff will receive training on dealing with FGM-related issues. In her experience, this training will be especially important.

We had a situation where Irish nurses had no clue about FGM… As an FGM survivor, I had to engage Irish nurses and rally the support of Amnesty International.

But Ahmed is taking a more grassroots approach to the problem and says that the best solution is prevention, not prosecution. She actively works with immigrant communities in Ireland to change their views of FGM.

Ahmed’s methods are unique. She seems equally comfortable on the catwalk, in the offices of the President, and on the streets, talking with immigrant communities. In order to raise awareness about FGM and get the practice banned, she met directly with members of Parliament, and even with Irish President, Michael D. Higgins.

One of Ahmed's fashion shows, featuring traditional Somali clothing. Photo:

Her organization, the United Youth of Ireland (UYI), hosted a number of fashion shows to educate the Irish public and policymakers about the dangers of FGM. The shows were attended by officials from organizations like UNICEF and Amnesty International and delegates from other European countries. Through her mix of political and popular activities, Ahmed ensures that she is simultaneously raising awareness and affecting public policy. The Female Genital Mutilation Act of 2012 was recently signed into Irish law.

We need to make it clear that FGM has nothing to do with culture or religion. It is simply a gross violation of girls’ rights that should be rooted out completely.

Are you familiar with Ahmed’s work? Do you think she is correct in saying that FGM is a cultural, not religious practice? Did the Irish government made a mistake in classifying female circumcision along with female genital mutilation? Please leave a comment below.

2 thoughts on “Irish Muslim activist takes on FGM

  1. While I firmly believe that what happened to Ms. Ahmed is abhorrent, it is important for her and others to recognize that there is a legitimate Sunnah practice in Islam that should not fall under the FGM categorization. It is therefore important as an advocate of the ban in Ireland that she publicly make a distinction so that people are not left with the impression that Islam condones the barbarism carried out against her. Please see this article for more information.

  2. My understanding is that there are various levels of FGM and Ifrah Ahmed’s was, unfortunately, especially brutal. I’m so glad someone like her is working so hard against FGM whereas people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali lope it onto religion itself. Hirsi went as far as to suggest that “high risk” groups (Somali girls in Holland) get annually examined by doctors to ensure that they haven’t been taken back home and made to undergo the procedure. How’s that for prosecution instead of prevention? It’s of no surprise that doctors emphatically said no to this suggestion, saying that it would destroy trust with these girls and their families.