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In Uganda, community leaders, religious leaders spearhead the campaign against female genital mutilation

Former cutter leads the community declaration against FGM in Ausikioyon village, Amudat Distict

By Proscovia Nakibuuka Mbonye

On a hot and sunny morning, a group of elders, religious leaders, kraal leaders, also known as role models from Akariwon village, Tapac sub-county, Moroto District meet and the topic of discussion is Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting.  These are members of St. Bakita Community Group that has since 1992 led the UNICEF supported campaign to end Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), which begun in 1992. The meeting is chaired by Lomiat Elia, a 67 year old, highly respected local leader and role model for the campaign. Among the issues to be discussed are avenues through which their village can influence other villages to stop cutting girls, like they did. They also talk about ways in which they can maintain the behaviour of keeping girls uncut in their community.

Lomiat joined the campaign after four of his daughters experienced prolonged bleeding after cutting as well as major complications during child birth. “When I joined the campaign, I made sure I saved my six younger daughters from the knife. Instead I sent them to school and I know they will become responsible people in the community after their education,” he adds.

Lomiat who has seen changes in his community laments that before the campaign started, an average of 100 girls were cut in just one day. But today, you hardly hear of any girl being cut in our village. He attributes the success of the campaign to the unique strategy of involving key opinion leaders e.g. religious leaders, Kraal leaders, and local leaders, in the fight against FGM/C. The approach has been very successful and today they boast of more girls uncut and more girls attending school.

Akariwon village is one of the villages in Tapac sub-county that used to practice FGM/C especially among the Tepeth community. The subcounty has over 60 villages and to date, 15 villages have publicly declared abandonment of the practice.

Speaking proudly with a smile, Lomiat says the members of St. Bakita are now role models in the community and among the things they do to keep the momentum of the campaign, is conduct door-to-door, home to home sensitisation drives, community dialogues, utilise the pulpit through religious leaders to disseminate anti FGM/C messages, use catechism classes as an avenue to pass on messages to young girls and boys, as well as visit other communities where the practice still prevails, urging them to stop the practice. “Our community is now a safe place for the girls because there is no cutting. However, we still need to work hard to ensure the practice is wiped out in all villages,” he asserts. 

Maria Napakol, a 70 year old former cutter also attends the meeting. She mentions that she joined the campaign after a number of girls that she mutilated, died due to prolonged bleeding. “I thank the Parish Priest who continuously visited me, and enlightened me about the dangers of FGM/C before urging me to drop the practice,” she narrated. “I am now a role model and sensitise people especially the cutters in the villages where we go, to leave girls intact.” She also notes that the practice is a borrowed one that was imposed on them.

The group meets weekly to take stock of their achievements as well as discuss new strategies of supporting other communities abandon the gruesome practice that leaves victims scarred for life. 

According to Moses King Loru, the Community Development Officer of Moroto District, all the villages in this sub-county used to practice FGM but because of the increased sensitization led by the communities themselves, more and more villages continue to publicly declare dropping the practice. 

On the same day, another public declaration took place in Ausikioyon village in Amudat District, another district in the Karamoja region where FGM is still practiced. The girls and women through songs, mention how their village has dropped FGM, a practice that was common. “We are here to publicly declare in front of everyone that our village is FGM free.” At this declaration, religious leaders, local leaders and the community members themselves take lead in pronouncing the practice. Rev. Canon Jane Chore, the Parish Priest confirms that for five years now, they have not had any girl being cut.

The achievements from all the communities have been a result of the intensified efforts supported under the UNICEF/UNFPA Female Genital Mutilation Joint Programme to accelerate FGM/C abandonment.

UNICEF Child Protection Specialist, Marianna Garofalo, said, the community meetings, and the public declaration ceremonies were some of the activities organised to mark the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation in the Karamoja region.

More and more powerful testimonies from men, women, girls, were also heard during the national commemoration of the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation held in Amudat District. At the event, the guest of Honour, Hon. Peace Mutuuzo, Minister of State for Gender and Culture Affairs reminded the communities that FGM was harmful to girls and women and it traumatise the victims and the cutters too. “All the components of culture that take us backwards should be stopped and ended today, she stressed. She pledged government’s support in supporting the communities’ efforts of working with elders, religious leaders, kraal leaders until the practice is completely wiped out.

In Uganda, the prevalence rate of FGM/C is at 1.4 per cent and is practiced in six districts - Kapchorwa, Kween, Bukwo in the Sebei region and Moroto, Nakapiripirit and Amudat Districts in the Karamoja region.



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