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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The fight to abolish Female Genital

September 12, 2009

According to statistics, the number of girls that have undergone Female Genital Mutilation has dropped from 621 in 2000 to about 212 in 2008. This is a remarkable feat, even though leaders are on a campaign to have the practice abolished once and for all, amid numerous challanges writes David Mafabi

Asking residents of Kapchorwa and Bukwo districts on the slopes of Mt Elgon to end female genital mutilation [FGM] remains a challenge. While health experts and local leaders in the district are calling for stronger commitment from the communities to end the practice, many traditionalists are not ready to drop it.

The traditionalists argue that FGM is a culture that makes them distinct from other tribes; because through FGM, girls are initiated into womanhood, shapes the morality of women during marriage and above all, is a means of livelihood for some women who are directly involved in undertaking the procedure.

A traditional surgeon, Ms Kokop Cherop says circumcising girls is the only way she has been able to make a living and educate her children.
"I have been at it (circumcising girls) for the last 20 years and from this I have educated my children; it has now become a means of survival. So when someone talks about ending it, I just laugh it off," Ms Cherop, 67, said.

Whereas rights activists have condemned the act as being crude, outdated and an abuse of the dignity of the girl-child, independent reports reveal that the practice apparently takes place at night stealthily as an arrangement between the surgeons and parents of the girls.
According to the district leadership in Kapchorwa, this presents a challenge, especially regarding the change in the attitude of the people who are deeply involved in the culture.

According to Kapchorwa LC5 chairperson Nelson Chelimo, because of this challenge, sensitization of the masses against FGM has not yielded enough results to strengthen the fight against the practice although the district council has already passed an ordinance against FGM.

Said Mr Chelimo, "In line with the UN resolution against FGM adopted last year, we have called upon leaders to take action to end FGM in our district and already because of resistance from some sections of traditionalists, we have passed a law against the practice and are waiting for Parliament to act.” He added: “But we still have a big challenge in dealing with the people who have turned this practice into their livelihood.”

Mr Chelimo's fears are not unfounded. The traditional Sabiny have in the past resisted dropping FGM, which they argue is a practice that gives dignity to the traditional Sabiny woman.
Under the UN resolution 2007, FGM besides violating the rights of women and young girls, constitutes an irreparable mutilation and irreversible abuse.

Among the salient issues cited are mounting medical evidence that FGM poses a serious threat to the health of women and girls, increasing vulnerability to HIV, raising the risk of maternal and infant mortality and harming psychological, sexual and reproductive health.
But even with these fears, Mr Chelimo is optimistic that the practice will be dropped, given the reduction in numbers of girls who are undergoing FGM at the moment.

Mr Chelimo like other leaders in the district believes the decline is due to the intervention of ReproductiveEducative And community Health [REACH] programme spearheaded by an local NGO headed by Ms Beatrice Chelangat.

The NGO operates in the districts of Kapchorwa, Bukwo and Nakapiripirit among the Pokot in Uganda where the tradition is highly practiced. REACH was established in Kapchorwa in 1996 to improve the reproductive health conditions and discard the harmful practice of FGM. According to them, in 12 years, the practice has dropped.

Statistics presented during the 12th annual Sabiny Day in Kapchorwa District Boma grounds indicate that in 2000, 621 girls were circumcised, while in 2004, 595 were mutilated, in 2006 a total of 226 girls were and in 2008 the numbers dropped further to about 212.

According to data for 2008 on Female Genital Mutilation based on a report by REACH, the community health programme against FGM has been addressing all stakeholders and adds that this year the advocacy campaign will be integrated to educate every Sabiny to discard the practice.
"Campaigns against Female Genital Mutilation initiated by REACH indicate that the practice has dropped to about 36 per cent even when the progress has been constrained by rumours, myths and misconceptions about the practice. It is thus recommended that FGM advocacy be stepped up and sub-county leadership pass by-laws denouncing FGM," reads the 2008 data report in part.

Ms Chelangat says even with the resistance from traditionalists, this time strategies have been laid down to involve all local leadership and the parliamentary leadership in the struggle to end FGM in order to restore dignity to the girl-child.

Mr Chelangat believes that a strong religious influence, local leadership support against the practice and increased enrollment of the girl-child at school, is likely to see that practice completely discarded in the next four years.

She revealed that REACH is targeting all communities that practice FGM like the Pokot both in Uganda and Kenya, the Sabiny and other tribes in Kenya while also tracing other Sabiny who have settled in other districts of Uganda.

Ms Chelangat says because Sabiny and Pokot FGM initiation ceremonies are carried out among girls between the age of 14 and 16 years, education and sensitisation of the girl-child in rural remote areas, exposure of the girl-child through training tours and revoking of FGM licenses is the sure way forward for ending the practice.