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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

RIGHTS-UGANDA: Female Circumcision Still a Vote Winner

KAMPALA, Oct 19, 2009 by Wambi Michael Since her childhood, Gertrude Chebet had been told of the day she would become a woman. She was led to believe it would be a great moment of change and it was something to look forward to with much joy. As she and her sister began that early morning trek, from their village in eastern Uganda, in the cold and through the bushes to the place of initiation, she expected it to be the best day of her life. But she was wrong. It turned out to be the most harrowing. [...] Today Chebet is a primary school teacher and campaigns against female circumcision, otherwise known as female genital mutilation. Chebet condemns it as unnecessarily cruel and inhuman. She is the chairperson of the Kapchorwa/Bukwo Women in Peace Initiative, a lobby group advocating for the enactment of laws to abolish female genital mutilation. But it has turned out to be a long, hard battle to change an age-old tradition that involves the total removal of the clitoris and scraping of the female private parts. In fact, even those in positions of power are finding it difficult to change the culture of mutilation against young girls. While earlier this year President Yoweri Museveni condemned the practice, his government has been slow to pass a total ban on female circumcision, partly because his party needs the votes of those who largely support the practice. The strength of the voters is especially evident in communities where female circumcision is a wide-spread practice. Here, women who have not been mutilated have difficulty being elected and some have lost elections because of their anti- female genital mutilation campaign. Jane Frances Kuka, the former Gender Minister and former woman Member of Parliament (MP) for Kapchorwa district, an area that has laws banning female circumcision, lost her parliamentary seat partly for having campaigned against female genital mutilation. "My opponents used my stand against female genital mutilation as a weapon against me. Elders were saying who is this (she) to interfere with our culture?" she says [...]