Saturday 07 March 2009
Even as the world focuses on women's rights on International Women's Day, the cruel, excruciating practice of female genital mutilation continues in some parts of Africa such as Uganda.
In a village in eastern Uganda’s Bukwo district, a group of young girls are smeared in a mixture of ash and mud.
It’s a sign of beauty, but it’s also a marker for a gruesome ceremony to come.
One by one, the girls, some as young as 8 years old, fall to the ground, and are circumcised in public - as the villagers look on. The process is excruciatingly painful. But locals say experiencing the pain is part of the ritual, a passage to womanhood.
Women across the world are commemorating International Women’s Day on Sunday. But as the international community focuses on women’s rights, in some parts of the world, the cruel, dangerous practice of female genital mutilation is still being practised.
Despite campaigns against the practice, female genital mutilation is particularly widespread in parts of Africa.
‘This ensures respect for the family’
In these parts, it’s a cultural practice that is not only upheld by society, but by older women in particular.
“I've been circumcising for 25 years,” says Agnes Chebet, the circumciser. “Through me, people know if the girl is a virgin or not. This ensures respect for the family.”
Internationally though, the practice has long been condemned as unnecessary and brutal.
While it's much less of a problem in the cities, the practice remains widespread especially in the rural areas.
Doctors say there's a grave risk of infection and that women can be traumatised for life.
"We know that this is a sensitive part in the human genitalia, so when it is removed, or cut off brutally, these people may never enjoy their marriages,” says gynaecologist, Tony Mulumba.
For the past decade, the World Health Organisation has been pushing for an end to female genital mutilation. In Africa alone, it estimates as many as three million women and girls are at risk each year.