December 15, 2009
By Richard Musani - The New Vision
Kampala — Female circumcision, has been practiced for centuries in parts of north eastern Uganda, commonly among the Sabinys. Generally, it is a rite of passage preparing young girls for womanhood and marriage.
It is performed by lay practitioners with little or no knowledge of human medicine.
Female circumcision can cause death or permanent health problems and severe pain.
Despite these grave risks, its practitioners look at it as an integral part of their cultural and ethnic identity, and some perceive it as a religious obligation.
Last week Ugandan legislators passed a Bill on Female Genital Mutilation that seeks to criminalize the practice and subject those practicing it to 10 years of imprisonment.
While passing the Bill the legislators failed to appreciate the fact that female circumcision is an integral part of the societies that practice it.
In communities where a person's place in society is determined by lineage traced through fathers, female circumcision reduces the uncertainty surrounding paternity by discouraging or preventing women's sexual activity outside marriage.
Being a member of the Sabiny community, I have observed that the girls' are eager to be circumcised, since those who remain uncircumcised are looked down upon by the community.
In addition, the ritual is often embedded in ceremonies in which the girls are given presents and their families are honored.
It is evident, therefore, that focus should have been in the first case on sensitizing the girl-child and educational empowerment on the effects of the practice.
The strong reactions by the legislators depicting the culture of female circumcision as savage, violent and abusive of women and children is likely to make those interested in continuing the practice rebellious.
In the New Vision December 14, titled: "Stamp out female circumcision" the editorial observed that the Bill was sponsored by a private member Chris Baryomunsi, the Kinkizi East MP. It was not sponsored by members of the affected areas who are conscious of their political future once open on this traditionally sensitive matter.
This raises questions on the enforcement of the law once the President assents to it. I believe the Government should re-focus and partner with international organisations working against the practice to support local activist groups with funding. They should also train and provide technical expertise to activist groups.
The girl child in the affected areas should be empowered and lured by educational scholarships to attain academic papers and learn the detrimental effects of the practise.
I recently learnt that the President provided some university scholarships to tertiary going girls in Kapchorwa and Bukwo, this was a positive initiative and should be continued. Gradually, the practice will be eradicated.
The writer is a strategic management analyst and a member of the Sabiny community