Silence, cultural bondage killing girls in Sebei


2 months ago

BY DAVID MAFABI

“My father forced me to undergo Female Genital Mutilation at the age of 13 and when I tried to run away, he warned me that he would beat me to death,” says Anna Chebet, now 16 before breaking down.

She says that even when she made an alarm that morning, nobody responded, nobody raised a finger but that the neighbours just said “Girls must undergo FGM according to Sabiny culture,”

“My independence, natural joy, gentleness, and steady lifestyle I enjoyed became distorted beyond recognition. I was closed off, angry, irritable and empty as I lay down bleeding,” adds Anna.

“I was told that I was a woman after FGM, forced to abandon school and married off to a man fit to be my father. And, slowly, my entire world, everything I thought I knew, began to unravel, I was broken and it was the darkest, loneliest feeling I’ve ever encountered,” added Mr Chebet.

Chebet is not alone, every year teenage girls are forced to abandon school, forced to undergo FGM and married off by their parents in Kween, Kapchorwa and Bukwo districts of Uganda without anybody raising a finger.

Girls dancing before undergoing FGM at Bukwo in Bortek village in Bukwo district.

Girls dancing before undergoing FGM at Bukwo in Bortek village in Bukwo district.

Many girls tell out harrowing, detailed account of their FGM experiences how they are forced by parents and bound by culture.

Ms Beatrice Chelangat, the director general of Reproductive Education and Community Health, an NGO that is involved in the fight against FGM says she listens every year to these harrowing stories from young girls.

“And every time I close my eyes, I hear them screaming for help. I see innocent young girls being forced by their parents to undergo FGM.  And I speak to myself; I promise you, I will not just shed tears for the injustices you are facing. I will reach out to every homestead in Sebei to end FGM and ensure young girls get the dignity they deserve,” Ms Chelangat says.

Despite a 2010 law banning FGM nationally, four months from now, girl-child in Sebei sub-region will undergo FGM; the procedure remains highly prevalent especially in rural culturally bound areas where silence rules.

The consequences are appalling. Along with an education and childhood cut short, girls suffer a traumatic initiation into sexual relationships, are put at risk of domestic violence and STI’s, and have the chance of a career or better life taken away.

The District Health Officer for Kapchorwa Dr Michael Mwanga says many of these girls usually die in childbirth or from pregnancy-related complications – the leading cause of death for girls aged between 15 and 19 years old in developing countries, according to UN figures.

“Many of these girls are not mature physically or emotionally, “said Dr Mwanga.

He said that FGM has left many young girls suffering incontinence, excessive bleeding, urine retention, paralysis and even death during childbirth, leaving many women at risk of HIV and other infections as well as psychological trauma.

Although efforts are underway to have FGM stopped, changing the life style of the people living in Kween, Kapchorwa and Bukwo districts at the slopes of Mt Elgon in order to end the practice is proving a headache to local leadership in the region.

Although like United Nations health experts is calling for stronger commitments from the local people to end theFGM in bid to restore the dignity of the girl-child, many traditionalist are not ready to drop the practice.

Victims of customs
Mr Nelson Chelimo, the former LCV chairman for Kapchorwa says women and girls in Sebei sub-region have been victims of outdated customs, attitudes and male prejudice and must be educated to liberate themselves from the bondage.

Mr Chelimo says the misery young girls go through typifies the misfortune faced by thousands of young girls in Sebei sub-region where tradition does not give them an opportunity to speak their mind.

“Young girls in Sebei are expected to undergo FGM before they can be regarded as women and perform other duties such as attending village meetings, serving food to newly-circumcised boys, smearing houses, getting food from granaries as well as being leaders or speaking in public, this is what is holding our people behind,” said Mr Chelimo.

A victim of the FGM in Sebei Sub-region and now ambassador against the practice, Ms Eunice Cherukut, said the practice now thrives on concocted perceptions and mysteries that hold girls in fear.

Ms Cherukut who is now an Anti-FGM ambassador with REACH programme, said many women who undergo FGMdevelop reproductive health complications, which they fear to expose to midwives.

Ignorance of the law
The FGM researcher, Mr Simon Alere says the biggest population living in the rural remote areas of Kabei, Bukwo parts of Suam, Chesower (Bukwo) and Kwanyiny, Benet, where the culture originated and where the people valueFGM have no information about the law.

“There was a time the parliamentary committee on gender came here to talk about FGM but they only addressed us and the councilors but in the villages people are still asking how the law was passed without consulting them,” said Mr Alere.

He adds that this pauses a lot of challenge especially in implementing the law.

“People are saying the law is harsh, unfair and needs to be amended. But until everyone in involved broad on board and taught the law, the deep rooted culture is not about to go,” says Mr Alere.

Mr Yona Cherotich, 72, of Kapsos village in Bukwo sub-county says he does not know about the law prohibiting the culture of the Sabiny.

“You tell us to abandon this culture inherited from our ancestors to keep the morality of our girls! It is strange. I want to assure you that I have a daughter supposed to be circumcised this year and I am preparing and nothing will stop me from circumcising her because her sisters, mother and grandmother are all circumcised,” said Cherotich.

Mr Stephen Matek, a local council leader at Chesower says, “Although literate parents now fear the new law againstFGM, many traditionalists and illiterate parents, ignorant about the law will circumcise their children,”

He says although the new law also intends to establish appropriate and administrative measures to uphold the sexual rights and dignity of women and girls, the traditional Sabiny insist there is no way to womanhood known to keep morality of women apart from FGM.

The minister of water and environment Mr Sam Cheptoris says FGM is still persisting in Sebei sub-regions because it is based on manipulation of women’s sexuality in order to ensure male domination and exploitation as a part of patriarchal repression.

Mr Cheptoris says, “The law has not changed anything much the villages, but sensitization of the masses against FGMwill yield desired results soon,” said Mr Cheptoris.

While addressing people at the occasion to mark the Sabiny culture day December last year as the chief runner, the Arch-Bishop Church of Uganda Bishop Henry Ntagali said it is possible to give up FGM without giving up the meaningful, positive aspects of the Sabiny culture.

Bishop Ntagali pledged continued support in the fight to end FGM: “We shall continue partners like UNFPA and UNICEF to ensure that girl-child here lives a dignified life,”

He explained that ending FGM is a complex process that requires behavioral change in negative social norms of society and urged the church to take a leading role in this fight.

Effects of FGM
Among the salient issues cited as effects of female circumcision are mounting medical evidence are that; FGM poses a serious threat to the health of women and girls, increasing vulnerability to HIV, raising the risk of maternal and infant mortality and harming psychological, sexual and reproductive health, severe pain, hemorrhage, tetanus infections, cysts and urinary inconvenience.

This is the basis upon which Reproductive Education and Community Health, an local NGO used to launch a law to criminalize FGM. Ends

Key facts

  • Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
  • The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women.
  • Procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.
  • More than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is concentrated.
  • FGM is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and age 15.
  • FGM is a violation of the human rights of girls and women.
  • In Uganda it is practised among the Sabiny [Kapchorwa, Kween and Bukwo districts], among the Karamojong [Tepeth], Pokot [Amudat district] and among the Somali community [Somalia] that live in Uganda.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Visit Us On TwitterVisit Us On FacebookVisit Us On Instagram