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Monday, December 6, 2010

FGM "Difficult to Eliminate"

December 6, 2010
Daily News: Tanzania's Leading Online News Edition
Sosthenes Mwita

Despite government efforts to eliminate Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) the practice continues in a shroud of secrecy mainly in Mara, Dodoma, Kilimanjaro, Singida and Manyara regions where adult women and children aged between six and 20 years undergo the harmful ritual.

Although there are sustained sensitization efforts and legal curbs that aim at eradicating the practice, incisors (ngariba) are still at work, mutilating children and women secretly. A recent survey shows that the “diabolical” practice is mainly prevalent in ten regions on the Mainland.

The report says the prevalence of FGM in Arusha and Manyara regions stands at 81 per cent. In Dodoma 68 per cent of women are mutilated while in Mara the rate is 44 per cent; Kilimanjaro (37 per cent); Iringa (27 per cent); Singida (25 per cent); Tanga (25 per cent) and Morogoro (20 per cent).  Dar es Salaam appears to have the smallest rate at 5.4 per cent.

An anti-FGM activist, who wished to remain anonymous, said in Dar es Salaam at the weekend that the anti-FGM crusade has made headway so far in sensitizing elders in tribal settings to shun the harmful ritual. She said a significant number of incisors in Dodoma, Singida, Ruvuma and Manyara have come forward to surrender their tools of the trade.

She said, however, that despite the vigorous anti-FGM effort, which has made successful inroads into the ritual, some incisors now mutilate day-old babies secretly.

"Ninety- eight incisors in Manyara Region have already laid down their tools.
This is a welcome development," she said.

She mentioned other regions where incisors have given up their trade as Dodoma (83), Singida (96) and Ruvuma (202). It is suggested in the report that communities must look for alternative methods of marking the passage of girls to womanhood (unyago).

"You do not have to mutilate a girl to get her to graduate into adulthood. Exposure to societal norms and ideals also groom girls into upright adults."

AFNET, the non- government organization that fights Female Genital Mutilation countrywide, has succeeded in reducing the harmful practice in Dodoma Region by over 90 per cent after changing the mindsets of parents, incisors and tribal elders.

The National AFNET chairperson, Ms Stella Mwaga, said this recently at a Wagogo tribal ritual during which the passing of 30 teenagers from childhood to adulthood was affected without them undergoing FGM. The training, which also involved nine boys, is an improved version of the traditional ìjandoî and ìunyagoî which normally culminates in the circumcision of the boys and the genital mutilation of the girls. After the training 30 graduates would now grow up into responsible adults and healthy parents.

The girls, who will now not be mutilated, will in turn spare their own daughters from mutilation. However, the boys would be circumcised but their ritual would be handled by trained health workers not the traditional incisors who use crude blades exposing the initiates to health hazards that include HIV/AIDS and septic wounds.

Ms Mwaga said that apart from enlightening the teenagers on the traditional tenets of good parenthood, they also know how best to maintain married life. The initiates were also enlightened of the ill effects of borrowed foreign cultures, moral decay and how best to get along with communal living.

The teenagers have also been exposed to simple health requirements, simple communal and national laws; the good virtues of working hard; respect and attentive listening to school teachers and elders and simple skills such as weaving and bricklaying. The lessons also included an insight into the ill-effects narcotic drugs and parental health with stress on pregnancy complications.

Ms Mwaga was hopeful that the female initiates would not be genitally mutilated after attending the new-look “unyago.” One of the initiates, Ms Loi Nyamunga (13), said her traditional teacher (mkungwi), had trained her group (of girls) to be responsible mothers in future.

The group was also enlightened on the ravages of sexually transmitted diseases, especially HIV/AIDS. In Dodoma Region the practice is known as "kugotolwa" among the Wagogo. “Here, the ritual marks the passing of a young girl from childhood to womanhood,” the report says. The ritual is also seen as a preventive measure or a cure against an imaginary disease known as"lawalawa".

In Mara Region, where the Wakurya refer to the practice as "esaro", and in Arusha where the Maasai know it as emorata, the reasons for the ritual do not differ from those advanced by the Wagogo, although here it is also designed to shoot down sexual desires.

So, in Dodoma and Singida women are mutilated on the pretext that the practice fends off "lawalawa". In fact, investigation by medical experts has shown that such a disease does not exist.

Lawalawa is a myth and an excuse to validate FGM among backward tribal settings. It has been established that what is believed to be "lawalawa" is actually a minor medical complication caused by improper cleaning of the genitals and any “uncircumcised" woman who develops thrush and an itchy feeling in her genitals is believed to have "lawalawa,” the report says.

Medical doctors say that the so-called “lawalawa” is thrush that is normally caused by dirt. It is an infection that can be prevented by cleanliness of genitalia and cured in hospitals by administration of antibiotics. “It is, indeed, a shame for any woman to allow scum to accumulate and cause thrush.” Farther afield, in African settings, women are subjected to female genital mutilation in most tribal settings because they are likely to bring shame to their families.

On the continental front, various forms of FGM are carried out in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti, Mauritania, Nigeria and Mali.