UGANDA: Sebei Lose Battle Against Female Circumcision
Kampala — Girls are paraded after undergoing circumcision in Bukwo in eastern Uganda. The traditional practice can sometimes lead to over-bleeding
When you enter Bukwo, a remote district in eastern Uganda, you are welcomed by a billboard saying: "Stop female circumcision, it is dangerous to women's health". Any person would expect the Sabiny, who inhabit the area, to take the message seriously, but the turn of events reveals otherwise.
Dr. Michael Mwanga, the district director of health services, said: "In 2006, we had less than 90 cases in the four sub-counties of the district, but statistics in the LC3 office show that 350 girls were circumcised in 2008."
District speaker George Kiprotich says the cases may be more than those reported. "Because of the campaign against the practice, many girls were circumcised behind closed doors," Kiprotich adds.
In Kapchorwa district, cases of female genital mutilation have reduced because of the sensitisation programmes undertaken by the Reproductive, Educative and Community Health project (REACH), and the introduction of a law against the practice.
Kiprotich says because of the campaigns against the practice, the Sebei are looking for alternative ways of doing it unnoticed.
"In the past, girls used to dance in the open for days. But since the campaigns against the practice, they dance at night, one day before the circumcision," he says.
"The girls are cut as early as 5:00am and taken to a secret location to heal before the authorities realise."
Why it is hard to eradicate the practice Seated on a bench next to a hut with her legs spread wide and covered with a bed sheet was 16-year-old Benna Sunday who had just undergone the 'operation'.
"I am now a woman. In our culture, a woman is worthless if she is not circumcised. Uncircumcised women are prohibited from doing certain community activities," Sunday says.
Sylvia Cheptoek, 17, adds: "Uncircumcised women are neither allowed to milk a cow nor climb into the family granary. The elders say such a woman is still a girl and immature to face them."
Moses Angurwa, 78, says: "Circumcised women have less sexual pleasure and endure when their husbands go away from home for long, thus they keep the home safely. However, uncircumcised women are unfaithful and may cheat on their husbands."
Angurwa adds: "I hear educated women do not want to undergo FGM. But women in our culture must undergo the ritual, lest they risk not getting married.
Both Sunday and Cheptoek have been promoted to P7, but they say they may leave school soon to get married.
"I am now ready for marriage. I will continue with school, but if a rich man offers dowry for my father, I will marry him," Cheptoek says.
"School is not that important. I have seen many people getting degrees, but have no jobs and their lives are not that good."
Sunday says a man has already shown interest in her. "My parents are negotiating and if he pays five bulls, I will have no choice but to get married. But if he fails, I will continue with school until a reasonable man comes forward."
Emily Chemutai, 19, and Irene Cherotich, 21, underwent the operation when they were already married because they were experiencing problems.
Cherotich said her mother-in-law was saying her failure to produce a baby was because she is uncircumcised.
"My mother-in-law encouraged me to undergo FGM so that I can conceive," she said. Chemutai says she recently lost a child and her in-laws blamed it on her being uncircumcised. My in-laws started respecting me after undergoing the ritual."
Chemutai says traditionally, the girls are not allowed to tell anyone about what they went through. "Our grandmothers say that if we tell anybody about the process, we shall go mad or white ants will grow out of our heads."
REACH ends programme
In 2006 REACH stopped its sensitisation programme in Bukwo.
The elders say REACHâ-àhad promised to set up a girls' school in the district, sponsor the education of the girls and give the 'surgeons' heifers, but they did not.
"We saw no need to stop the practice because many girls come from poor families and cannot afford fees. So the only option they have is to get circumcised and get married," an elder said.
Sunday Kokop, a 'surgeon' also said politicians from the area are promoting the practice. "Many people in the area support the practice, so politicians do not want to talk against it for fear of losing support," she adds.
Kiprotich adds that the practice is widespread in neighbouring Kenya, which has made the people of Bukwo to continue with it.
Listening to the people of Sebei, I was convinced that FGM is deep-rooted in their culture. So it will take serious sensitisation programmes, education of the girls and provision of alternative sources of livelihood to the 'surgeons' to get rid of the practice.
AUTHOR: Frederick Womakuyu
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