10 December 2013

Press Release: FGM remains a danger for Tanzania's girls despite laws against the practice

“I was in grave danger and almost dying.” These are the powerful words of Mary Laiza from Arusha Region in Tanzania who had female genital mutilation (FGM) when she was 14 years old. She survived and now campaigns against this brutal practice.

It is estimated that 7.9 million women and girls in Tanzania have undergone FGM (UNICEF, 2013).  New research for 28 Too Many’s report “Country Profile: FGM in Tanzania” shows that there has been good progress against FGM in some areas of Tanzania but there are still very strong challenges to eradicating FGM.

The estimated overall prevalence of FGM in girls and women (15-49 years) is 14.6% which has not changed since 2004 (DHS). However, as with other African countries that practise FGM, there are significant regional variations in prevalence. Worryingly, of the nine regions with the highest prevalence, four have seen an increase from 2004 to 2010. 

“New evidence from our research shows girls are having FGM at a younger age – with those cut before age one year increasing from 28.4% to 31.7% in 2010, with FGM often done in secret,” comments Dr Ann-Marie Wilson, Executive Director of 28 Too Many.  “A change in the law has brought fear of prosecution and is driving the practice underground.  Another reason for FGM being practised includes the belief that a bacterial infection ‘lawalawa’ is cured by FGM (which only took hold after laws against FGM were introduced); this belief is still much in evidence and needs addressing through teaching and retraining.”

28 Too Many’s research will help those working against FGM and supporting vulnerable girls and women in Tanzania and diaspora communities. “FGM a very dangerous practice to my fellow girls and women in Tanzania; it is so painful and can even result in death.  Girls and women who undergo this practice lose their self-esteem and can feel unworthy in the society,” says Consoler Wilbert, a survivor of child abuse and sexual violence who founded New Hope for Girls, a project in Dar es Salaam, which works with vulnerable teenage girls. “This is why I support the work of Ann-Marie Wilson and 28 Too Many. We need this research to raise awareness and help to create the new generation with no FGM.  It is possible and will happen when we all get involved and work together towards achieving this goal.”

Notes to the editor:

Highlights from the Report

  • According to the Demographic Health Survey (DHS), the estimated prevalence of FGM in girls and women (15-49 years) is 14.6% (2010).The overall rate has not changed from the 2004-05 but has decreased by 3.3% from  17.9% in 1996.
  • Of the nine regions with the highest prevalence, five have seen a decrease, and the remaining four an increase between 2004-05 and 2010, with the largest increase occurring in Singida from 43.2% in 2004-5 to 51% in 2010 (DHS).
  • Of those women who have undergone FGM, 90.9% have experienced Types I and II ‘cut, flesh removed’.  Less common, Type IV is recorded at 2.2% and Type III infibulation at 0.7% (DHS, 2010).
  • The cutting of young girls is increasingly carried out at an earlier age, with girls cut before their first birthday increasing from 28.4% in 2004-5 to 31.7% in 2010 (DHS).  
  • Of the regions that practise FGM, those that are predominantly Christian have the highest proportion of women who have had FGM. There does not appear to be a strong connection between Islam and FGM in Tanzania and a number of ethnic groups that practise Islam do not practise FGM.  
  • Lawalawa is a relatively new phenomenon arising first among the Nyaturu ethnic group in the 1970s after FGM was first banned. It was believed that lawalawa was a disease which was cured by FGM and as a result mass cuttings were performed. In reality lawalawa was outbreaks of vaginal or urinary tract infections that can be treated with antibiotics.  It may also have been used as a pretext among the Nyaturu under which to continue performing FGM.  Despite efforts to combat this belief, it persists and has spread across Tanzania. Furthermore, the belief is not limited to vaginal or urinary infections, but sometimes also when girls or even boys have a fever or other disease.
  • There are more than 58 organisations campaigning to end FGM in Tanzania and working to support women/girls affected by FGM using a variety of approaches. 


Additional Notes on FGM in the Tanzanian Community in the UK - According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) mapping exercise in 2009, is difficult to put a figure on the exact number of Tanzanian nationals living in the UK but community organisations estimate that there are over 100,000, of whom roughly 75% are thought to be living in the London area. The UK national Census for 2001 recorded over 32,635 Tanzanians in the UK.