UGANDA: A Circumciser Drops The Brutal Knife

After 24 years as a circumciser, Rodanice Kokopbetty has abandoned the practice. Known far and wide in eastern Uganda and across in neighbouring Kenya for her expertise as a female genital cutter, Kokopbetty was one of the longest serving circumcisers in Kapchorwa, having started out in 1980 at the age of 30. She only abandoned it in 2004.

She started off as an apprentice, cleaning the tools used and holding the legs of the girls as the circumciser performed the ritual. With time, she was also involved in the actual cutting until she became an "expert".

She does not know the exact number of girls she has circumcised but she estimates them to be in their thousands. Just in one season alone, she would cut up to 800 girls, with an average of 50 girls per day. A mother of nine children, Kokopbetty who is circumcised herself lives in Kwoti Parish in Kaptanya Sub County. All her female children are also circumcised.

But how did someone who was revered by the community lay down the knife? "People from REACH (an organisation which has been at the forefront of advocating against female circumcision) came to me and said: You better change now because there is a law coming in place to criminalise circumcision of girls and you don't want to be prosecuted," said the 58-year-old woman.

"They said they would give me an alternative source of income which I agreed to because I knew it would be in the best interest of my people and the community," Ms Kokopbetty explained in an interview with Sunday Monitor.

Since she made the decision to stop circumcising, Kokopbetty has turned her energy to promoting the rights of girls while encouraging other practicing circumcisers to abandon the practice.

Given that she had earned prestige and fame in her village and earned a good income too out of cutting women's genitals, Kokopbetty has managed to convince quite a number of other women to abandon circumcision while urging girls to resist any attempt to have themselves cut.

Slowly, FGM is reducing in most parts of Kapchorwa. The reduction is mainly as a result of a rigorous campaign by the United Nations Population Fund-sponsored Reproductive Educative and Community Health (REACH) programme.

But because it comes with tangible benefits, female circumcisers are somewhat reluctant to abandon the trade. For Ms Kokopbetty to be convinced to abandon circumcision for example, the REACH project gave her a heifer cow as an alternative source of making money. Besides, she also deals in crafts which she sells to tourists who visit to see the mountainous terrain of Kapchorwa.

REACH Deputy Director Robert Cherop said circumcision is a lucrative activity as circumcisers get paid a fairly good sums of money, usually accompanied by other goodies like beer, goats and chicken.

"A circumciser earns as much as Shs10,000 for every girl she cuts and gets to drink lots of beer given by the community. Actually she is treated like a queen," Mr Cherop said. Yet, according to Mr Cherop during a given season, a circumciser may have girls from a whole sub-county to herself to circumcise -- usually reaching 100 of them. Thus at Shs10,000 payment for every girl, a circumciser can bag up to Shs1million by the end of the season.

But even if it's a well-paid "job", Kokopbetty said she will not be tempted to return to it. "I am very strong now and I have continued to resist calls from some clan elders that I return to circumcision," Ms Kokopbetty says.


AUTHOR: Evelyn Lirri

URL: Click here

DATE: 23/06/2008

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