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Sensitisation key to eliminating Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting

By Lafelle Tsz Kwan Chu

“When I gave birth to my first child, my labour was delayed for seven days,” says Lillian Lolem (not real names), one of the speakers at last year’s Pokot Culture Day celebrations. “I tore so badly that after delivery, all the fecal matter would mix with urine.”

Lolem, a survivor of the horrors of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), was narrating how the mutilation had altered her natural body function, causing her to struggle with the possibility of losing her baby throughout the ordeal of her prolonged labour.  

She suffered fistula, a condition resulting from prolonged obstructed labour. “I was considered dirty, and discriminated against in my own home and in the community. I was not allowed to even collect water and do any other housework”.

Lolem’s story is only one of many that demonstrate the harmful consequences of FGM/C on young girls not only in Uganda, but throughout the world.

FGM/C is illegal in Uganda and punishable by law. However, while the practice that was outlawed in 2010, is still prevalent in some communities like the Pokot, Tepeth and Sabiny of Northeastern and Eastern Uganda. Among the Pokot community in Amudat district from where Lillian hails, nearly 95% of the female population have undergone FGM/C. The practice is not only harmful to the girls’ bodies but a violation of their rights that predisposes them to child- and early marriage, HIV and other lifelong consequences.

UNICEF together with UNFPA and other Civil Society Organisations continue to support Uganda Government efforts to wipe out the practice. The agencies are working with communities to accelerate change in people’s attitude and behaviours to abandon the practice. Communities are made aware of the harmful effects of FGM/C on the lives of the young girls and are encouraged to take action against it.

A lot has been done, but challenges still remain. Several former cutters say life has not been easy after denouncing FGM/C, since cutting was their main source of income. Most of them are only able to do household chores or raise their husbands’ cattle and have no money of their own. Despite the loss of economic power, however, the former cutters say they are determined not to return to practicing FGM/C because they have witnessed and understood the danger of this tradition.  

Sensitisation and education continues to be one of the most critical solutions to curbing FGM/C. In Amudat district, UNICEF is supporting young girls that have taken refuge at Kalas Girls Primary School after running away from their communities where they were due for mutilation. Through education, young girls are being empowered to fight the practice and say no to FGM/C!

 “Had I stayed home, I would have been cut, and married off early, and at this age I should be bearing my first child,” says a 14-year old girl, who sought refuge at Kalas Girls Primary School to escape the cutter’s knife.

Since 2009, UNICEF is engaged in the UN Joint Programme on the abandonment of FGM. The programme in its phase II is implemented in partnership with the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, the district local governments of Moroto, Amudat, Nakapiripirit, Bukwo, Kween and Kapchorwa. The Zero Tolerance Day looks at accelerating the total abandonment of FGM/C in the next generation.

“The war [to end FGM] will take a long time,” says Rt. Rev. Joseph Abura, Bishop of Karamoja Diocese.  “However, collaborative efforts among different stakeholders provide more hope and will ensure [that] no other woman is subjected to a similar experience that Lillian had to go through.”

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