6 November 2012

What's happening in advance of the cutting season in Tanzania?

Guest blog from Tanzania by our Research Co-Ordinator.

We are shortly approaching the December cutting season in Tanzania.  Our Research Co-Ordinator has just returned from Tanzania, undertaking some research on behalf of Tearfund, and these are her initial findings:

“We visited the remote Rorya District in the Mara region in North West Tanzania, near the shores of Lake Victoria. Although within the country as a whole the prevalence of FGM is 15%, within practising tribes in the region, most notably the kurya tribe, the prevalence is much higher, with anecdotal evidence suggesting that over 80% of women and girls in some communities having been cut. The practice remains deeply entrenched for a variety of factors, with one of the main drivers being intense social pressure to conform. Women and girls who remain uncut become social outcasts and are unable to perform many tasks and functions in the community such as gathering wood in the forest with the other women, drawing water from the well or opening the gates of the homestead. The power of peer pressure even within the pre-teen age group has led to girls attempting to circumcise themselves with razorblades in circumstances where their parents do not wish them to undergo FGM. The pressure does not just affect young girls, with one grandmother reportedly undergoing the knife due to social pressure.

We heard of some of the consequences of FGM being made illegal, with the practice being driven underground – whereas previously, many girls would have been cut together with much ceremony, out in the open for all to see, circumcisers now come secretly at night. Fear of the law has also led that girls are being cut at younger ages (8 years old whereas previously they would have been cut at 12), and also to the type of circumcision changing, with only a small part of flesh being removed as opposed to the entire clitoris, so as to lessen the risk of profuse bleeding and death and therefore the risk of being caught. Leaving the meeting where we heard about this development concerning the type of cutting taking place, we saw a large group of school children and it dawned on us that they had probably already been cut, yet they were so clearly young girls.

Another very interesting aspect to our trip has been to see the inter-relationship between FGM and male circumcision. In Mara, both are carried out at the same time of year, and it has been suggested that witnessing the boys “become men” at the circumcision celebrations may also be a contributing factor to the social pressure girls feel to likewise “come of age” and be fully accepted. Interestingly, in one community there had been a sharp increase in traditional male circumcision (which is carried out in unsanitary conditions) as opposed to going to hospital for the procedure. This has been attributed to an increase in the amount of money the boys have been given as gifts following the ceremony, a situation encouraged by traditional leaders wanting to protect their traditions.

Cutting means business. For the circumcisers themselves, the practice is lucrative, with them earning 5,000 Tanzanian shillings per girl.  The traditional leaders are also paid. The ceremonies associated with cutting season (at least now openly associated with male circumcision) are big. The musicians and dancers will even stop their usual profession during cutting season as they will earn better money for their role in the ceremony.

The situation remains urgent, with the cutting season just around the corner in December. Although some NGOs and institutions such as the Christian Council of Tanzania (CCT) and the African Inland Church of Tanzania (AICT) are active in region, in nearly all of the communities we visited there was an absence of any sensitisation programmes designed to combat FGM.”

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