Uganda, 14 June 2013: Girls resist genital mutilation to embrace education
By Irene Oluka, in Amudat District
It was all smiles and jubilation as girls queued up to enrol at Kalas Girls Boarding Primary School. The school, located within Amudat Town Council, has an enrolment of 800 female pupils. The girls, mainly from the villages of Jumbe, Napao, Natirira, Amudat Town Council and Lochengenge, were excited because their dream of returning to school had become a reality.
The Amudat school is special because its pupils include a group of brave girls who resisted the harmful cultural practise of Female Genital Mutilation or Cutting (FGM/C), common among the ethnic groups of the Pokot, Sabiny and Tepeth of north and north-eastern Uganda. The primary school has become a safe haven for girls fleeing the horrors of the FGM/C knife.
According to Sr. Magdalene Nantongo, head teacher of the school, 125 girls had voluntarily enrolled with the school by the end of last term. She says the girls all have a common vision to get an education so that their future is bright.
“These girls have demonstrated their determination to get an education in the midst of the social and cultural pressures of their communities. They are courageous and if they stay in school, they will have a bright future,” says Sr. Nantongo.
The mobilization and awareness campaign has been made possible through the UNICEF -supported “Go Back to School” campaign in Uganda. Through the campaign, parents, caregivers and communities are mobilized to abandon FGM/C, an age-old culture that has been practiced for centuries in the east, horn and northern parts of Africa. Uganda is part of the East African region. The campaign encourages caregivers in communities to send their children to school and ensure they complete school.
“As part of the campaign, messages to abandon the practise of FGM/C are disseminated in all places of worship. Religion has, therefore, helped transform these ‘cutters’,” says Dorcus Chelain, Deputy Speaker, Amudat District Council. “The more they go to church, the more they abandon the practice,” Chelain adds.
With support from UNICEF in Uganda, the Amudat district leadership, Faith-Based Organisations (FBOs), Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and Community-Based Organisations (CBOs) embarked on the anti-FGM and Go Back to School campaigns, with the aim of eliminating the harmful cultural practice which targets girls as young as seven years old.
“More mothers are also encouraging girls to go to school because education reduces vulnerability to FGM,” Chelain observes.
Several former traditional cutters, who initially propagated FGM/C, have since abandoned the practice and also rallied behind the campaign after realising the negative impact it had on the health of the girls and women who had been cut/mutilated. The reformed traditional cutters have also been empowered to disseminate messages and knowledge on the harmful consequences of allowing girls and women to undergo the practise of FGM/C.
“Ever since I was sensitised about FGM/C, I am now encouraging girls to abandon the practice and go to school,” says Paulina Lomuno, a former cutter from Jumbe village in Amudat district. “I am now exposed and I wish men from this area could be taken to other places where uncircumcised girls are appreciated in society,” Lomuno adds.
The reformed cutters disseminate their proactive messages during the campaign, calling on all caregivers to protect their daughters from the practice. As a result, they now openly discuss the harmful effects of FGM/C.
At the school, UNICEF provides psychosocial and medical support as well as scholastic materials to ensure that the girls who have chosen education over the harmful cultural practice have a comfortable and receptive attitude to stay in school.
For many of the girls, going back to school is a relief and an avenue to avoid the harmful practice of FGM/C. It keeps them safe from the ‘cutters.’
“We hear that the Government of Uganda has passed a law that now bans Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). So if there is no FGM practice, what are girls doing at home?” asks Elizabeth*, one of the pupils who escaped being cut. “It is better that we use our time well and go back to school for a bright future,” she adds.
* Actual names have been changed to protect the identity of the children
More on education
More stories from Uganda