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Monday, August 3, 2009

Sabiny Now Circumcise Married Women

August 3, 2009
Story originally published December 9, 2003

(New Vision - Kampala) WHILE the commitment by the anti-Female Genital Circumcision (FGC) activists to eliminate the practice among the Sabiny of Kapchorwa district by 2006 still stands, meeting the target is becoming elusive with the new developments in the Sabiny society.

The girls who have survived the knife while in their adolescent stages are being forcefully circumcised upon marriage.

Female circumcision is a custom among the Sabiny in Eastern Uganda.

The practice involves the removal of the woman's pleasure producing parts. The surgeons are basically traditional women who believe that it is a spiritual cultural call for them to perform this operation.

The 2002 enumeration results of FGC in Kapchorwa district conducted by the Family Planning Association of Uganda (FPAU) show that in-laws and husbands are playing a significant role in the decision to have married women circumcised.

In the past, girls between the age of 13 to 20 were the main participants. Today the age bracket has widened to 48 years of age. "This is partly because women who were not circumcised in their adolescent stages are going in for the knife upon marriage," says Patrick Kitiyo, a youth counsellor with FPAU-Kapchorwa, and one of the people who took part in the enumeration exercise.

Kitiyo says harassment, intimidation, peer pressure and cultural beliefs are some of the reasons married women are going in for the knife.

"These conditions apply more to women living deep in the villages. Here it is a taboo for uncircumcised women to climb into their own granaries, preside over cultural ceremonies and to collect cow dug from one's kraal," he said.

Kitiyo says it is also considered a taboo for uncircumcised woman to fetch water ahead of the circumcised women.

"They are referred to as 'girls' and elders look at them as people who have nothing developmental to contribute to any debate and because society has also deemed it a taboo for them to climb into granaries or even collect cow dug, these women have been forced to undertake
circumcision to avoid harassment," he explains.

As a result, the range of married women undergoing FGC is widening. Out of the 647 women who were circumcised last year, 436 (67.4%) were married.

The sub-counties of Benet, Bukwo, Swum, Kwanyi and Kaprorom registered the highest number of married females who under went circumcision.
Enumeration results also show that 344 of the FGC cases were from Kongasis County while Kween and Tingey registered 244 and 68 cases respectively.

Besides pressure from the husbands and in-laws, inadequate anti-FGC campaigns and low school enrollment for girls are other reasons responsible for the high cases of FGC.

However, Beatrice Chelangat, the Programme Manager for the Reproductive, Educative And Community Health (REACH) programme based in Kapchorwa says even with the new developments, circumcision will be no more by 2006 and history in Uganda by 2015. REACH is an advocacy programme geared towards the total elimination of FGC among the Sabiny.

"But while we are doing our best in eliminating the practice, girls we have saved from the knife in their adolescent stages are now falling victims upon marriage," she adds.

"However, we have laid a new plan and starting next year we will be targeting newly married couples. We want them to denounce FGC in the same way they did while in their adolescent stages," she says.

Women undergoing circumcision also vary according to fertility experience. While some are circumcised before giving birth, others are circumcised after.

FGC is associated with a lot of festivities. These involve feasting, family reunion and merry making by the community.

"After circumcision, the candidates are bestowed upon the status of womanhood. This is one of the factors that make the practice cherished," says Kitiyo.

Besides being a harmful practice, one associated with shock, painful scares labial adherences, clitoral cysts and chronic urinary infection, the Sabiny -- especially the elders -- still regard FGC as a sacred ritual that is sanctioned by their ancestors.

Their cultural belief is that a woman cannot be considered to be an adult until she has undergone this procedure.

The Sabiny elders believe that female circumcision is as old as the Sabiny people. The real history surrounding FGC remains a mystery. Two beliefs however try to explain the origin of FGC in Kapchorwa.

One such belief is of a young girl who fell sick for a long time. When the elders decided to consult the ancestors, the ancestors demanded that some blood from the girl's private parts must be shed for her to cure.

"To drop this blood, the girl was circumcised and eventually the practice was picked on by the other women," says Kitiyo.

The second belief is based on the Sabiny pastoral life style. Being herdsmen, the Sabiny men are said to have been so mobile. They were often away either busy looking after their cattle or hunting. But on their return home, the men would find their wives pregnant. The alternative was to circumcise them. Although FGC is deeply rooted in the culture and traditions of the communities that practice it, there are clear indications that once the appropriate strategies and approaches to the practice are designed, FGC is likely to be abandoned like it has been with other cultural practices: knocking out teeth and tattooing inclusive.