16 July 2013

FGM in Uganda

Blog by Johanna Waritay, 28 Too Many Research Coordinator.

28 Too Many has now released its second country profile on FGM in Uganda.  The report is freely available on our website and is intended to provide consolidated and objective information on female genital mutilation (FGM) in Uganda, and on national efforts to eradicate the practice. The purpose of this report is to provide an enhanced understanding of issues relating to FGM, particularly within a wider framework of gender equality and social change. This report acts as a benchmark on the current situation of FGM in Uganda,  and we hope it will be a valuable resource for organisations to communicate their initiatives, shape their own policies and programmes, and network with each other; facilitating collaborative strategies for change.

The prevalence in Uganda is very low in comparison to other countries in Africa where FGM is practiced, with the overall prevalence of FGM in girls aged 15-49 years being 1.4% (DHS, 2011).  The areas with the highest prevalence are the Eastern Region (2.3%) and Karamoja (4.5%) (DHS, 2011).  All other regions have rates of less than 2%.  Uganda is therefore classed as a Group 3 country, according to the UNICEF classification, where only some ethnic groups practice FGM and the country overall has a low prevalence rate of between 1 and 24%.     

The main regions in which FGM is practiced are the Eastern Region among the Sabiny ethnic group and Karamoja Region among the Pokot, Tepeth and Kadama ethnic groups.  All these ethnic groups are part of the larger Kalenjin ethnic group and are related to the Maasai in Kenya and Tanzania who also practice FGM.   The Sabiny practice Types I or II, whereas the Pokot practice Type III.  Among the Pokot, the practice is believed to be near universal at 95%, whereas the practice is estimated to be approximately 50% among the Sabiny (UNFPA, 2011). 

FGM among these ethnic groups is largely practised as a rite of passage and to ensure marriageability, and is closely associated with early marriage and bride price.  It is also a way of these ethnic groups distinguishing themselves from their (sometimes hostile) neighbours, the Karamojong, who do not carry out FGM. Although there is little data available, FGM is also believed to be carried out by the Nubi (an ethnic group originating from Sudan) and Somali communities.  There is also a practice called genital elongation that is carried out by the Baganda.  This is sometimes called female genital modification (FGMo) and there is some debate as to its inclusion into the WHO category of Type IV.        

The Ugandan Member of Parliament, Dr Baryomunis, who tabled the anti-FGM bill before the Ugandan parliament asserted that by 2015 FGM would be no more in Uganda.  The latest DHS figures, however shows in all regions other than the Eastern region the rate has in fact increased with the overall rates going up from 0.6% in 2006 to 1.4% in 2011. In the Eastern region, there has been a longer history of interventions against FGM. There has been a decrease in prevalence from 2.4% to 2.3% (DHS 2006 and 2011) and other data also suggests a long-term decline in the practice in this region.  Although it is difficult to accurately assess the reasons for this increase, there are anecdotal reports of increases in cases of FGM following the coming into force of the new law with some communities continuing to cut in defiance of the new law.  It should be noted, however, that gathering data on FGM in Uganda is challenging, partly because FGM is now often carried out in secret or over the border in Kenya for fear of prosecution, and the regions where FGM is practised are remote. 

A key part of our report is providing an overview of the different strategies currently being used by organisations to eradicate FGM in Uganda. We highlight these initiatives so that other bodies can consider a range of approaches and make informed decisions on their own programme structures and policies. Some intervention strategies (used by both international and grassroots groups) include: a health risk approach, addressing the health complications of FGM, education, alternative rites of passage (ARPs) and Culture Days, a legal approach, a human rights approach, providing alternative income for excisors and providing safe refuge for girls fleeing FGM and early marriage.  Moreover, our report emphasises the important roles that education, religion, and the media play in advocating for the elimination of FGM.

The role of education is particularly important in these regions of Uganda.  Although Uganda has made good progress towards Millennium Development Goal 2 (achieving universal primary education), rates of literacy and school enrolment remain very low for the regions where FGM is practised (the literacy rate for Karamoja is 12% for men and 6% for women, compared to a national rate of 76.8% for men and 57.5% for women, and 50.3% of girls and 49.7% of boys of school going age in Karamoja have never accessed education).  This may be partly as a result of a resistance to education among the pastoralist Pokot (and Karamojong) where historically education was used as a political tool to sendentarise (i.e. to change the community from a nomadic one to one where they remain permanently settled in one place) and integrate them.  Improving access to education is vital because if a girl completes her education she is less likely to undergo FGM.  

There are still many challenges to overcome before FGM is eradicated in Uganda.  However, we believe that with the expansion of anti-FGM activities from the Eastern District into Karamoja, the capacity building of law enforcement agencies and proposed cross border collaboration in law enforcement with the Kenyan authorities, and active anti-FGM programmes progress continues in a positive direction. As discussed in the report, we provide the following recommendations necessary for positive change in Uganda:

1. Recognising cultural significance of FGM

2.  Incorporating other ethnic groups and internal migrants within FGM strategies

3. Sustainable funding

4. Considering FGM within the framework of the millennium development goals and post-MDG framework

5. Facilitating education on health and FGM

4. Improvements in managing health complications of FGM, more resources for sexual and reproductive health education and research on the psychological consequences of FGM

5. Increased advocacy and lobbing

6. Increased law enforcement 

7. Increased use of media

8. Recognising role of faith-based organisations

9. Greater use of partnerships and collaborative projects

With over 56 organisations currently campaigning to end FGM in Uganda, it is clear that the drive and commitment exists among Ugandans to end FGM. These groups are however sometimes isolated and uncoordinated, and programmes and results are not always communicated publicly. Our report aims to make their voices heard and together we can coordinate our resources to continue on the road to positive change and the eradication of FGM. For more information on FGM in Uganda please see our full report.


Click here to download the full report Country Profile: FGM in Uganda

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