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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

New Hope - Can African First Ladies Intervene in FGM Fight

February 14, 2010
By Florence Mutesi - The New Times

Kigali — Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) also called Female Genital Cutting, is beyond what some people normally call circumcision.

Countries like Uganda and Egypt have shown interest in fighting the vice through efforts of abolition. But with a country like Kenya, it is said that policy makers don't want to interfere with their political interests, by tackling the issue, therefore at this point first ladies can intervene.

First ladies in East Africa and sub Saharan Africa at large have made a great impact in several areas such as the fight against HIV/AIDS, where they are recognized for the positive changes manifested.

Although their intervention requires the support of the policy makers, they cannot wait for the political will but rather advocate for the abolition of FGM. And it will be possible if first ladies put it on their agenda, taking it serious.

Rwandan First Lady Mrs. Jeannette Kagame at the end of 2009, at the African AIDS Vaccine Programme (AAVP) forum, called on African leaders to collaborate in coming up with viable policies or systems to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa, fighting FGM should be a similar chorus sung in the same way, by the first ladies. FGM may not only lead to contracting HIV/AIDS, but undermines women's choice, since most women are mutilated at an early age, and others do it just because of a tradition.

The first time to look at the video where the cutting was carried out, it was trauma. And to most people, who have never seen this, trust if you are a humanitarian, you would hate the practice with passion.
The most severe cutting is what is called type 3 (Pharaonic circumcision 3 or infibulation).

No wonder the ones who cut women, which women include those are cut when still babies, are never seen during the function of cutting but rather hide somewhere, where they carry out their operation.

This cutting consists of thinning of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and sealing the labia minora and or labia majora with or without excision of the clitoris (these are the external parts of a female genital).

Those who do the cutting may use thorns or stitches to hold the two sides of the labia majora together and the legs of the victim are bound together for up to 40 days. Only a small opening is left to allow urine and menstrual blood to escape, which at initial stage uncontrollably find their way due to the agony the victim lives in.

Information provided by 2003 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) indicates 96.8 percent among Somali prevalence and 98.9 percent for the North Eastern Province, where the majority live. And Type III is predominant. One Maryam Sheikh Abdi, a Somali Kenyan lady who at one time underwent the trauma of FGM, has decided to preach change in her community, Kenya and internationally.

She is somehow taken unserious by those from her family and FGM believers, but she is not ready to reverse her decision of saving the young generation by creating awareness.

FGM is among human rights abuses that are being ignored in 28 countries of sub-Saharan Africa, some countries in the Middle East and Asia.

And 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide have undergone the practice, with at least two million girls being at risk of being cut each year and about 6,000 girls a day.

It is of recent that a Kenyan Doctor mentioned Rwanda among and western countries to be practicing FGM due to the changes women make on their genitals.

He mentioned as a way of undermining women's rights/pleasure as to please their male counterparts. There is need of more research what may be called female genital prolongation, to find the right definition (not FGM) and its effect and the reasons of carrying it out.

Also for the Western world, there is need of knowing why the female genitals are pierced and put rings for what is called beauty.

FGM has continued to exist due to lack of political will to fight the vice, since politicians fear to lose votes through promising or tackling the issue.

It is at this point that the efforts of the first ladies are most needed since the problem has been given attention by most of the international community, for example USAID.

The practice, to those who are still sticking on it argue that it prevents immorality among females as it is perceived as a way to reduce women's sexual desires through infibulation , to enforce the cultural value attached to sexual spotlessness among females, by making sure that virginity before marriage and female faithfulness throughout living.

However, the question is, as females are forced into painful moral practices, men who are married to victims of FGM are said to be more unfaithful as they seek "uncircumcised" women.

Maryam who has also carried out studies on the vice asserts: "FGM is a deeply rooted and widely supported cultural practice that is supported by many cultural reinforcements for its continuation.

Several closely related reasons are used to sustain the practice: being a Somali tradition and the belief that it is an Islamic requirement formed the two main reasons given."

"The practice is also perceived to prevent immorality as it is seen as a way to reduce women's sexual desires through using infibulation to enforce the cultural value of sexual purity in females by ensuring virginity before marriage and fidelity throughout a woman's life. It was evident from the studies that there is a fear of women becoming promiscuous if not circumcised and so FGM/C was erroneously believed to be in compliance with Islamic requirements of chastity and morality".

Also, the practice is believed to be a way to enhance women's cleanliness and beautifying the genitalia.
'Marriageability' is another reason for the practice, since the community believes an uncut woman or girl cannot be married, or if married, will be divorced once the husband discovers she is not. FGM/C plays no role as a rite of passage in the community, however, as it is generally performed on girls aged 6-7 years, and on girls as young as four years.

Most of the tribes in many countries have practiced genital cutting for so many years in that the practice has continued to even affect the young generation which would be willing to give up on it.
And, unfortunately health system does not have advanced equipment to serve women who have been cut, especially those infibulated, during their pregnancy time and delivery.

The unfortunate part, as men from the practicing tribes marry cut women, they are unfaithful to their wives as they normally have uncut lovers, therefore FGM victims suffer in vain. There should be great efforts to end the practice, as gender equality, gender based violence, human rights, fight against HIV/AIDS are given attention.
Otherwise some people might not benefit from the good policies.