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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Sensitise masses on anti-FGM Bill

February 2, 2010 By Anthony Bugembe - The New Vision AFTER years of lobbying by activists and experts, Uganda is finally on the right track to stopping female genital mutilation (FGM). Parliament deserves a pat on the back for passing the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Bill in December 2009. This legislation, once assented to by the President, will go a long way in restoring the dignity and guaranteeing the sexual and reproductive health of our young girls. Although culture is an important factor in the development of our communities, negative cultural practices, which cause severe physical and psychological, harm should be strongly condemned and discouraged. Surely, why should a girl's private parts be mutilated in the name of culture? It is these parts that are the symbol of her womanhood. There are better cultural means to initiate adolescents into adulthood and to ensure faithfulness in marriage than FGM. It is unfortunate that some communities still believe that FGM reduces the chances of infidelity by deliberately reducing the woman's desire for sex. The World Health Organisation defines FGM as procedures that intentionally alter or injure female genital organs for non-medical reasons. It involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia. The practice is mainly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and 15 years. An estimated 100 to 140 million girls and women globally are currently living with the consequences of this practice, while close to three million girls in Africa are at risk for FGM annually. A quality population that is healthy, educated, skilled and economically productive will propel Uganda to socio-economic transformation. FGM undermines efforts to achieve this by exposing women to psychological and physical trauma. Research shows that circumcised females are most likely to develop child birth complications. The victims also face a high risk of bleeding to death and catching other infections because the practice is carried out in unhygienic conditions. If we allow the practice to continue, then Uganda is a long way from achieving the health-related millennium development goals. Unfortunately, due to the strong cultural attachment in communities that practice FGM, many of the victims suffer silently for fear of being excommunicated. Now that we have the political commitment, community mobilisation should be heightened to get rid of the harmful, barbaric and dehumanising cultural practice. Ample sensitisation will boost the local, national and international alliances formulated to fight the practice in Bukwo, Kapchorwa, Nakapiripirit, Amudat, Moroto and others, where FGM is the order of the day for young females. These communities should be empowered by increasing their access to information, social support, treatment and protection of the victims. The girls should be empowered to resist abuse of their God-given dignity and right to sexuality. The victims of FGM should be rehabilitated. The Government should find ways of making the new anti-FGM legislation user-friendly. Recently there was a public outcry, mainly from the religious leaders, on some sections in the Bill. The Bill provides for life imprisonment for those found guilty of aggravated female genital mutilation. This is where death occurs or where the victim is disabled or infected with HIV/AIDS after undergoing FGM. The Bill also provides imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years for anyone found guilty of carrying out FGM, while those who participate or aid the process, shall be jailed for a period not exceeding five years. But what is involved in aiding? Does it mean that if someone does not report a person carrying out FGM, then they are aiding the process? Unless such contentions are clearly addressed, the new legislation will become another shelved law. The writer is the national programme officer (media liaison) of the Population Secretariat