From firstname.lastname@example.org Tue Jan 11 12:07:52 2000
Copyright 2000 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Renewed Efforts To Combat Female Circumcision
By Peter Owuor, IPS, 6 January 2000
KAMPALA, Jan 6 (IPS) - Female genital mutilation is still a major health problem among the Sabiny people of Eastern Uganda, in spite of concerted efforts by the Uganda government, donors and community leaders to combat the practice.
Statistics compiled by the Family Planning Association of Uganda and the Reproductive, Educative and Community Health Programme (REACH), show that the trend is far from declining. However, the findings have been described by government officials as surprising.
The statistics were compiled among 14-30 year old girls in the district of Kapchorwa, 480 kilometres east of the capital Kampala. They were circumcised between December 1998 and January 1999.
This district is populated by the Sabiny - the only ethnic group in Uganda that practices genital female mutilation in the belief that it reduces promiscuity among married women.
The practice involves cutting off the clitoris of the woman as well as parts of the lips of the vagina. The whole area is then stitched up to narrow the passage. The rituals are carried once every two years. It was last carried out in December 1998 and will again be done in December 2000.
In Tingey County, Kapchorwa district, it was found that 193 out of a total of 5,762 girls (3.3 percent) were circumcised, while in Kween county, the study found that 473 girls were circumcised out of 3,027 (13.5 percent).
"The findings are surprising and indicate that the problem is far from over. It could even be getting worse so we must redouble efforts to fight it," says Charles Opio, the Government Resident District Commissioner.
The Government, through a local group called the Sebei Elders Association has, since two years ago, intensified a campaign to end the practice. Overall cases are believed to have dropped by about 40 percent since 1996.
Female genital mutilation is practiced in 27 out of the 53 member states of Africa. In some countries more than 90 percent of females have undergone genital mutilation. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that about 100 million women and girls in Africa today have gone through some type of genital mutilation.
In Uganda, it is done using crude implements such as sharpened pieces of metal or knives. The circumcisers are mainly old women who have been locally trained in the tribe to cut the girls. "They are very experienced in the job and have done it for many years," says Joseph Chepsikor, a community leader in the district.
Before the girls are circumcised, they go through several rituals and receive gifts. They are taught to believe that no man can marry them unless they are 'initiated through circumcision'. Those who are already married leave their marriage homes to go back and get circumcised.
For days before the ceremony, the young girls roam the villages visiting relatives who console them and offer them gifts. The ritual itself is carried early in the morning. The girl is made to lie on her back on a mat in the compound of the home and told to open her legs wide. The 'surgeon' approaches and kneels between her legs. Knife in one hand, she pulls the clitoris until it is elongated before cutting it.
After cutting it, the 'surgeon' rubs some locally concocted herbal medicine on the wound. The girl, who is expected not to cry, gets up and walks to a nearby shelter where she will stay for months to allow the healing process. Crying during circumcision is a sign of cowardice and is believed to bring bad luck to the family.
"I was circumcised when I was about 13, and I thought if I did not do it, nobody would marry me. They used a shared knife between several girls. Today I cannot allow my daughters to do it at all because among other problems it exposes one to the risk of HIV/AIDS," says Jane Chelimo, a nurse involved in the REACH programme.
She says she has had difficult childbirths for her four children because of what happened to her reproductive system.
The crusade against the practice gained momentum in 1996, when a woman leader, Jane Francis Kuka was appointed Minister of State for Gender and Community Development. Since her appointment, she has been outspoken against the practice and mobilised local women in Kapchorwa to speak out against what was previously regarded as a cultural practice.
"I refused to be circumcised and everybody thought I would never be married. But I am happily married with children," says the Minister who was recognised by the United Nations in 1997 for her efforts in combating female genital mutilation. She has also been at the forefront of mobilising girls in schools to reject the practice.
As a result of her efforts as well as those of the REACH programme, the family Planning Association, the Elders Association and government, 150 school girls wrote to the United Nations Secretary General in 1997, requesting help to save them from the practice.
In response, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Chief Nafis Sadik hailed the girls and promised help to strengthen the fight against the practice.
Despite the gains, a strong opposition still exists among the traditionalists in the district. The Resident District Commissioner, Opio says extra effort is being directed at convincing the traditionalists that female genital mutilation is a harmful practice.
"(December) is the circumcision period. So we have a lot of work to do before then, if the figures have to be brought down," he says.
[c] 2000, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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