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Friday, December 10, 2010

More Needs to be Done to Fight FGM in Uganda

December 10, 2010
The Observer

Tuesday, November 30, 2010 marked Sabiny Cultural Day. It also marked the beginning of something tantamount to torture – Female Genital Mutilation season.
During the month of December, each night, after the stroke of midnight, young Sabiny girls are taken from their homes and subjected to this excruciatingly painful act.  They have no choice and the majority live in fear and dread of this moment in their lives.
Female Genital Mutilation is deeply rooted in tradition. In the districts of Bukwo and Kapchorwa, the Sabiny believe it is an essential rite of passage that will enhance a girl’s chastity and chances of marriage. But this is not a symbolic ceremony. It is a violent act that can cause permanent damage both physically and mentally.
Young girls are cut with crude knives, and despite the need for critical medical attention afterwards, they are forced to walk back to their homes, often bleeding profusely. Female Genital Mutilation can result in prolonged bleeding, infection, infertility and complications during childbirth. In some cases, it can be fatal.
While the Government of Uganda should be applauded for passing legislation that bans female circumcision, the fact that girls are still undergoing the procedure demonstrates the need for responsive action. So, what can we do to achieve the total abandonment of FGM in Uganda?
We know that FGM functions as a social norm for those communities that still practise it; so, it is difficult for any one family to abandon it on their own. To do so would risk the marriage eligibility of daughters as well as loss of social status for the entire family. We know the decision to abandon FGM has to come from the community as a whole so that all members will be more confident to abandon the practice.
We know from other countries that too much focus on persuading the ‘cutters’ to stop the practice has proven ineffective. Interventions must, therefore, concentrate more on addressing the need for communities – especially the elders and the girls – to say “no.”  That way, girls who do not get cut will not be shunned.
Through dialogue, education and social change, we are witnessing more and more families standing by their daughters and not allowing them to be cut. Many communities have also put in place an alternative rite to passage into womanhood – one in which the girls can celebrate with joy and hope for the future.
The perseverance and determination of the elders of these communities should be commended. Their continued leadership is a must for this practice to be stamped out. The voices against FGM are getting louder and louder, but we need to increase and intensify them.  This is a call to action for everyone to stand up and speak up for these young girls who are denied the choice of saying “no.”
FGM is nothing more than an act of brutality and a gross violation of basic human rights. The voices opposing it will only get louder until the practice of FGM is consigned to history.

The authors of this joint statement are:

Theophane Nikyema, UN Resident Coordinator for Uganda /UNDP Resident Representative

Janet Jackson, UNFPA Resident Representative

Dr Sharad Sapra, UNICEF Representative

Birgit Gerstenberg, OHCHR Representative/Head of Office

Dr Joaquim Saweka, WHO Representative

Musa Bungudu, UNAIDS Country Coordinator

Jebbeh Forster, UNIFEM Representative

Kai Nielsen, UNHCR Representative