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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Female Circumcision and Ugandan Politics

November 11, 2010
Geof Magga

Although Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM) has been condemned by international bodies as an abuse of human rights, a vast majority of people from the Sebei tribe in Uganda still practice the dangerous tradition.

Despite the practice having been banned outright in the eastern African country since last year, some 200 young girls from the Sebei tribe have "willingly" registered to be circumcised in December this year.

The practice, which is common among people from the Sebei tribe of Bukwo and Kapchora districts at the foot of mountain Elgon, 400 kms east of Kampala, is categorized by World Health Organization as Female Genital Mutilation due to the damage it causes to circumcised women’s sexuality. It also leads to various complications.

After confirming that women in Sabiny tribe are among the most affected by the practice, anti Female genital mutilation advocate, Dr Betty Nalongo, explained how the bloody practice affects women: "FGM, refers to the removal of the external female genitalia. It is not only painful but also makes the victim never to enjoy sex after the mutilation."

Notwithstanding its adverse effects, including childbirth related complications, a Sabiny man, Rogers Kyesang says that people from his tribe want their "girls and women to be circumcised because circumcised women are less interested in sex and therefore can not have extra-marital relationships while in marriage."

But Cecilia Chemutai, 30, a woman who underwent the painful experience 10 years ago says: "I regret why I accepted to be circumcised. I feel much pain during sexual intercourse with my husband... and childbirth is very difficult". She does not understand why girls voluntarily go for the exercise.

One of the girls who has decided to get circumcised in December this year, Gladys Ketrai, 19, says she wants "to be circumcised" in order for her to "fit well among the already circumcised women" of her "tribe." "It is an old tradition which all women in the past underwent. Why should I avoid the exercise when my mother and grandmother went through it?" she argues.

Meanwhile, a government official in Sebei, Thomas Sakkwa has hinted that the decision from the girls are anything but voluntary. "Some of the young girls are teased into being circumcised... by elderly women. Whenever they they come across uncircumcised girls, they tease them that they are not fit to be within their company because they are not yet circumcised."

But with all the government official’s concern, no politician has dared to remind the people of Sebei of the illegality of the practice due to the pending elections. They fear that any attack on the practice could cost them vital votes due to the fact that many local people there revere circumcision. A law against Female Genital Mutilation has been in place in Uganda for several months.

Uganda is to hold presidential and general elections in Febuary, 2011, and many people hope that the law against circumcision will be resurrected to save girls and young women from the blade after the elections.