SEATTLE, Washington — The Federal Republic of Somalia is located in the Horn of Africa. In Somalia, approximately 98 percent of women above the age of 15 years old have been victims of female genital mutilation (FGM). FGM has been linked to a number of different serious infections as well as complications during pregnancy. In fact, women who have suffered mutilation have a 70 percent higher risk of hemorrhage during childbirth. Ifrah Ahmed founded The Ifrah Foundation to help victims of FGM and to stop this inhumane practice.
The Woman Behind the Ifrah Foundation
Ifrah Ahmed was a young woman from Somalia who relocated to Ireland in 2006 as a refugee. At just 17 years old, she spoke almost no English and knew nothing about Irish culture. Somalians normalized the practice of FGM so thoroughly that Ahmed was shocked at the realization that it was not commonly practiced in Ireland.
Her grandmother’s brother had circumcised her when she was only 8 years old. Since he was a doctor, Ahmed considered herself to be lucky. Many girls she spoke to later in life recalled much more unsanitary conditions in which they were mutilated. A girl who was circumcised around the same time as Ahmed died of blood loss.
Angered by the new knowledge that FGM is not as widely accepted as she thought and finally exposed to an environment where she was able to question it, Ifrah Ahmed realized what an injustice FGM truly is. This inspired her to become an activist on behalf of women around the world who had become victims of FGM.
In 2008, she began her first CSO, called the United Youth of Ireland. This organization aimed to address the issues immigrants had in becoming integrated into Irish culture. The group hosted a number of fashion shows to educate the Irish public about Somali culture and the dangers of FGM. Despite threats from Somali people who embraced the practice, Ahmed continued to reach out to the Somali communities in Ireland about this topic, speaking to women who had similar experiences.
The Ifrah Foundation
In 2010, Ifrah Ahmed founded the Ifrah Foundation. The foundation began its work in Ireland, with its focus on three big contributors to social change: advocacy, awareness and empowerment. Largely due to Ahmed’s tireless efforts, the Irish parliament passed a bill in 2012 banning the practice of FGM in Ireland. This bill also made it illegal to take a child from Ireland to have the procedure done in another country where it remains legal. Under this bill, medical professionals will be taught about FGM and how to treat women who have been victimized by it.
The Ifrah Foundation started its work in Somalia in 2013. The foundation’s long term goal is to eradicate the practice of FGM worldwide, starting in Somalia. With the support of the Somali government where Ahmed serves as its “Gender Advisor,” the Ifrah Foundation is working to fulfill the United Nation’s sustainable development goal to end the practice of FGM globally by 2030.
The percentage of women undergoing FGM worldwide has decreased considerably. In 1990, 49 percent of girls between 15 and 19 years old were victims of FGM. As of 2020, only 34 percent of girls in the same age range have been circumcised. Still, it remains evident that the Ifrah Foundation has its work cut out for it. Approximately 67 percent of women in Somalia between 15 and 49 years old believe that FGM should continue.
Through extreme adversity, Ifrah Ahmed has prevailed, driven by a passion to help women like her and save as many girls as possible from the same fate she suffered. The Ifrah Foundation is continuing its work through advocacy and education by reaching out to both political leaders and individuals who are uneducated about the topic to cultivate systemic change and eventually ban the practice globally.
– Amanda Gibson