UGANDA: We Escaped Female Circumcision

BETTY Chelangat, 23 and Monica Chebichira, 25, have never enjoyed parental love.

This is not because they are orphans, but because their refusal to submit to the cultural practices of female circumcision has all but ostracised them from their community in Eastern Uganda's Kapchorwa District.

Ms Chelangat and Ms Chebichira say their parents, relatives and the community have for the last 10 years been trying to force them to under go Female Genital Mutilation so they could be regarded as mature women in society.

The two have, however, done their best to escape the harsh knife.

"When we made 14 years respectively, that mandated us to be circumcised. We started escaping to our relatives in Kenya during holidays," Ms Chelangat says as she breaks down into tears.

"Even our parents were not protective at all. They wanted to fulfill their cultural obligation of having circumcised daughters."

She says the two have not been able to visit their home areas during circumcision period since 1998.

FGM involves partial or total removal of the female genitalia. The most common type of female genital mutilation is elimination of the clitoris. According to the World Health Organisation, the immediate and long-term health consequences of female genital mutilation vary according to the type and severity of the procedure performed.

Immediate complications include severe pain, shock, bleeding, urine retention, ulceration of the genital region and injury to adjacent tissue. Bleeding and infection can cause death.

Having witnessed the painful process in the village and heard of the long term health implications, Ms Chelangat and Ms Chebichira were determined to avoid it.

Female circumcision in Kapchorwa is done every even year from the month of October to December.

In 1998, when their parents started preparing for their circumfusion, the girls run away and sought refuge at a relative's home in neighbouring Kenya.

"They [parents] were determined to have us circumcised. And this was a ticket to marriage. Circumcision could have meant the end of our education," Ms Chelangat said.

"We had to say no despite the encouragement from other girls and boys who have under gone the practice."

Ms Chebichira says they faced all kinds of intimidation from the community whenever they went home.

"Referring to us as cowards and non Sabin girls was quite intimidating but this could not make us surrender. We are proud that they have not succeeded in circumcising us," she said.

But Ms Chelangat and Ms Chebichira say it could not have been easy to escape the pain of Kapchorwa's female circumcision knife if the God Parents' Association (GPA) had not come to their aid.

GPA, founded by Ms Rebecca Salonen from the United States of America, facilitated the girls' escape from Kapchorwa to Kampala and paid their school fees through the end of university.

The two are set to graduate in Social Work and Social Administration today at Kampala University.

The Director of God Parents Association, Ms Nagudi Wagwa Rutangye, said the association has helped many girls from Kapchorwa survive the harsh female circumcision.

"The two are a success story because they managed to finish university. There are many others who are nurses, teachers and many more," Ms Nagudi, who is also Mbale Woman MP said.

She said the association would continue to promote the education of girls, especially those who are disadvantaged like Ms Chelangat and Ms Chebichira.

However, Ms Chelangat and Chebichira say that they are not alone.

"We are among the few lucky ones to escape the knife. Many of our friends tried to resist but were forced," said Chebichira.

She said although many NGOs are out there to fight the practice, the majority of people still submit to FGM.

"Many girls are quietly being forced to be circumcised," she says.

She said the girls are told that if they are not circumcised, they would be thrown out of the community and that no man would marry them.

The two girls are determined to join organisations that spearhead the fight against female circumcision.

They believe that Kapchorwa residents can themselves be able to fight their culture.

"It becomes difficult for an outsider to come and tell you to abandon your culture. With the help of other people, we can sensitise our communities to abandon this harsh culture," MS Chebichira says.

"We are ready to go down the grassroots to talk to our people and tell them the dangers of female circumcision."


AUTHOR: Agness Nandutu

URL: Click here

DATE: 20/01/2008

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