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Monday, July 6, 2009

Genital mutilation is a crime against women

July 6, 2009

Last week, there was encouraging news—two, in fact—with regard to the hideous practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). First was President Museveni’s impressive breadth of knowledge and informed analysis of the dangers of FGM as he launched a campaign against the practice in Nakapiripirit. Describing FGM as brutal and backward, Mr Museveni, in a fitting measure of bluntness, was quoted by the media as saying: “Can you even make an inch of that part you cut? If God made his engineering, who are you to destroy it?”

As the President was urging the communities—Sabiny and Pokot-- to stop FGM, Education Minister Namirembe Bitamazire was warning parents who allow their daughters to undergo genital mutilation and the surgeons who ‘operate’ young girls that they will be arrested.

Even as we await Parliament to enact a law banning FGM, it matters that measures are put in place to protect girls from undergoing this torturous practice, especially given that the circumcision period is next month. And it was impressive that Mr Museveni used terms that illustrated the dreadful practice, even pointing to a woman who was crippled as a result of FGM. The health implications of FGM on women are life-long, largely as a result of the crude and humiliating procedure that involves either removing the clitoris or cutting away all of the woman’s external genitalia--often carried out in non-sterile conditions using basic household implements.

Yet statistics indicate that more than 100 million women worldwide have undergone this culturally sanctioned brutality that violates human rights norms. It incapacitates women’s chances of enjoying a healthy marital relationship. Studies show that FGM raises the likelihood of mother and baby dying as a result of childbirth-related complications. And there is the psychological pain.

As the campaign to ban the practice gets underway, there will be stiff resistance from communities who consider FGM a vital cultural obligation. That is why health experts must sensitise communities on the risks; NGOs should, through local support groups, be ready to confront hurdles in trying to change people’s attitudes.

All of this will require laws in place and strong commitment to implement them. It is Uganda’s obligation, under the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, to prevent and punish violence against women.