UGANDA: Resisting the Cut

Changing the life style of the people living in Kapchorwa and Bukwo districts at the slopes of Mt Elgon in order to end the traditional female genital mutilation (FGM) is proving to be a headache for the local leadership in the region.

Mrs Musa Sauya speaks at the 12th annual Sabiny cultural celebrations at Boma Grounds in Kapchorwa District orgainised by Reach, an NGO established to improve reproductive health conditions. Sauya says that whereas she is willing to drop FGM as a surgeon, it earns her a living and she would find it hard to educate her children if she stopped it.

Although like United Nations health experts, the district leadership is calling for stronger commitments from the local people to end the FGM in a bid to restore the dignity of the girl-child, many a traditionalist are not ready to drop the practice.

Led by a traditional surgeon, Ms Musa Sauya a traditionalist urges that FGM is their culture that makes them distinct from other tribes, initiates girls into womanhood, shapes the morality of women during marriage and above all is their livelihood as they are paid for circumcising the young girls.

Sauya openly says that circumcising girls is the only means of living she has got which has enabled her educate her children.

"Circumcising girls is the only means of survival I have which has helped me educate my children so when you discard FGM, I am dead," said Musa who is about 70 years.

Whereas local reports condemn the act as crude and outdated and an abuse to the dignity of the girl-child, independent reports reveal that the practice apparently takes place at night stealthily as an arrangement between the surgeons and parents' of the girls.

According to the district leadership in Kapchorwa, this presents a challenge, especially regarding the changing of the attitude of the people who are deeply rooted in the tradition and look at it as a source of income for sustaining their families.

According to the Kapchorwa LC5 Chairperson Nelson Chelimo, because of this challenge, sensitisation of the masses against FGM has not yielded enough results in a bid to strengthen the fight against the practice; the district council has already considered passing an ordinance against FGM.

Said Chelimo, "In line with the UN resolution against FGM adopted last year, we have called upon leaders to take action to end FGM in our district and already because of resistance from some sections of traditionalists, as an LCV council we have considered passing an ordinance against the practice. But we still have a big challenge in dealing with the people who have turned this practice into their livelihood.

Chelimo's fears are not unfounded. The traditional Sabiny have in the past resisted dropping FGM, which they urge is a practice that gives dignity to the traditional Sabiny woman.

Under the UN resolution 2007, FGM besides violating the rights of women and young girls, constitutes an irreparable mutilation and irreversible abuse.

Among the salient issues cited are mounting medical evidence that FGM poses a serious threat to the health of women and girls, increasing vulnerability to HIV, raising the risk of maternal and infant mortality and harming psychological, sexual and reproductive health.

But even with these fears, Chelimo is optimistic that the practice which is set for November and December this year is likely to show a steady decline in the percentage of number of girls who will get circumcised.

Chelimo like other leaders in the district believe the decline is due to the intervention of Reproductive Educative And Community Health (Reach) programme spearheaded by a local NGO headed by Ms Beatrice Chelangat.

Chelangat is the director general of Reach, an NGO that operates in the districts of Kapchorwa, Bukwo and Nakapiripirit amongst the Pokot in Uganda where the tradition of FGM is practiced.

Reach was established in Kapchorwa in 1996 to improve the reproductive health conditions and discard the harmful practice of FGM and 12 years down the road, the practice has dropped to about 36 percent.

Statistics presented at the Kapchorwa district Boma grounds at the 12th annual Sabiny day indicate that in 2000, 621 girls were circumcised, while in 2004, the number was 595 and that in 2006 girls circumcised dropped to 226.

Data collection for 2006 on the FGM report by Reach accessed by Daily Monitor indicate that community health programmes against FGM have been addressing all stakeholders and adds that this year the advocacy campaign will be integrated to educate every Sabiny to disown the practice and discard it forthwith.

"Campaigns against FGM initiated by Reach indicate that the practice has dropped to about 36 percent even when the progress has been constrained by rumours, myths and misconceptions about the practice.

It is thus recommended that FGM advocacy be stepped up and sub-county leadership pass bye-laws denouncing FGM," reads the report in part. Chelangat says that even with the resistance from traditionalists, this time strategies have been laid down to involve all local leadership and the Parliamentary leadership in the struggle to end FGM in order to restore dignity to the girl-child.

Chelangat revealed that whereas the FGM has persisted, looking at the dropping numbers of girl-child who undergo the practice; there are enough signs that it will go with time.

She believes that a strong religious influence, local leadership support against the practice and increased enrolment of girl-child at school, is likely to see that practice completely discarded in the next four years.

She revealed that Reach is targeting all communities that practice female genital mutilation like the Pokot both in Uganda and Kenya, the Sabiny and other tribes in Kenya while also tracing other Sabiny who have settled in other districts of Uganda but practice FGM. Chelangat says that because Sabiny and Pokot FGM initiation ceremonies are carried out amongst girls between the age of 14 and 16 years, education and sensitisation of the girl-child in rural remote areas, exposure of the girl-child through training tours and revoking of FGM licenses are the sure way forward for ending the practice.

The Minister of State for Privatisation, Ms Rukia Chekamondo says local political leadership at all levels have been empowered to monitor closely the motives of the pro-FGM organisations and individuals and thereafter take appropriate action against them.

Chekamondo revealed that local policy on to see an end to FGM is also being sought at village, parish, sub-county and county levels and from all the members of parliament who hail from Kapchorwa and Bukwo districts.


AUTHOR: David Mafabi

URL: Click here

DATE: 11/06/2008

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