Somali Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke is joining a campaign to end female genital mutilation (FGM) in Somalia.

Sharmarke signed an online petition proposing a federal ban of the long-standing practice that 98 percent of Somali women undergo. Ifrah Ahmed, an anti-FGM activist, who herself underwent the procedure as a child, told the BBC she persuaded Sharmarke to sign the petition. Sahra Samatar, Somalia’s minister of women and human rights, said Sharmarke’s support is a “huge boost” to the campaign for a national anti-FGM legislation.

The online campaign, with more than 1.2 million supporters, comes after Puntland, a region in northeast Somalia, instituted a comprehensive ban on the procedure. The  campaign urges the national government to follow the precedent of “adopting [Puntland’s] progressive legislation.”

The Somali parliament has never passed a bill barring FGM, though the constitution forbids the practice. Ahmed told RFI that Cabinet support for the measure would give it a boost in Parliament.

Ahmed has been campaigning for politicians’ support for years. She left Somalia for Ireland at age 17 and in 2014, The Irish Times reported, she spoke with Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud while campaigning in Brussels.

“We’re doing our level best. We are only getting finger-pointing and criticism from the outside world,” Mohamoud told her. “With the meager resources we have, we are doing our best.”

The campaigners are optimistic in their message.

“If Somalia enacts a full ban law now, and follows with massive public education campaigns, it could become the champion to lead the world to zero tolerance,” they say on the campaign page.  

Ahmed and other anti-FGM activists recognize their proposed political shift must be followed by a cultural one in order for legislation to be effective. She said, according to the BBC, an educational campaign and “willingness to enforce the legislation” were necessary.