16 October 2012

Celebrating anti-FGM progress in rural Uganda.

Blog by Kelly Denise, Uganda In-Country Researcher.

When Ann-Marie first started looking at getting involved in anti-FGM work in 2005, she bought a book edited by Comfort Momoh ‘Female Genital Mutilation’.  There it stated FGM inUganda at 5% (1995/6).  We are pleased to report in 2012, it has fallen to 1% (UNFPA).  In this blog, Kelly shares her experience in Uganda:

My time doing research inUganda has been amazing. The town of Kapchorwa is the largest town in the area where FGM is practiced in Uganda. ‘Kapchorwa’ means ‘friendship’. This town takes hospitality to a whole new level. Sometimes walking from the guesthouse to an office for work took a couple of hours. Not due to the distance, as it is only about 4 km, but because I was invited to take tea with people so many times! It became difficult that last 1-2 km or so to find more room in my stomach for just one more mandazi-a Ugandan kind of donut.

The people of Kapchorwa and the surrounding rural areas are event and family oriented. Decisions are made by the elders and men are the heads of households, though women do the majority of household work. Culture is extremely important- above religion, above government and even health. Despite the law against FGM being passed over 2 years ago, it continues as a cultural practice. Certain areas are too remote for police enforcement to take place. Other areas, it is looked upon as valuable beyond the risk of prosecution.

 While compiling information on anti-FGM organisations throughout the districts I was privileged to meet with ex-circumcisers. These women were responsible for hundreds of girls ‘undergoing the cut’ as a rite of passage to become a woman. They did this for the sake of culture. It is what ‘sets us apart from other tribes’ stated a man from the Sabiny Elders Association. These five women now assist in spreading sensitisation regarding the negative health consequences of the practice. They also continue to share wisdom of what they believe girls should know prior to becoming a woman: ‘Complete education;  avoid immorality; fall in love with an un-married man; introduce him to your parents; avoid relations until after marriage; remain faithful to him forever.’ Good advice for girls around the world I think!

One may hear the statistics ofUganda, less than 1% of girls in the nation are cut each year, and think thatUgandahas all but ratified the practice. The work however is far from over. The numbers remain staggering with over 400 girls being cut annually. That is 400 girls who’s lives will never be the same. The majority of them will be married to a man twice their age within weeks of the cut. These girls are finished with schooling even though they can barely read and write. 400 girls between 11-14 years who will now take on the responsibility of being a ‘woman’. 400 girls who need someone to stand up and protect them. Someone to stand up and proclaim their rights.

That is what 28 Too Many is working to do. We work to support local organisations fighting for these girls’ rights. The work is far from over, but we will not stop until it is.