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UNICEF adopts grandmother approach to end FGM/C and early child marriage in Eastern Uganda

© UNICEF Uganda
Grandmothers supporting the anti-FGM/C campaign interact with donors during a field mission.
By Catherine Ntabadde Makumbi

It is a hot sunny day in Matingot village, Kapchorwa district and a group of over 30 grandmothers with their granddaughters and sons are seated under a tree explaining their approach of preventing female genital mutilation/cutting and early child marriage to representatives of DFID-UK and SIDA-Lusaka office.

Joyce Yapchemusto, 57, says they talk to their grandchildren about the dangers of FGM and early child marriage. “We teach them how to live a quality life in the community without undergoing FGM or even getting married when so young,” she explains. Yapchemusto says that through their approach, they have reached out to many other grandmothers within the community but hastens to add that “a lot needs to be done” to wipe out the practices.

Excited to see guests interact with them, Gladys Chemutai, 60, says in the past, it was not easy to receive such high level teams in their communities. Giving credit to current trends and the education the community members have received, the grandmothers now have an opportunity to interact with such high level visitors.

The guests included DFID UK’s Policy Manager Rebekah Diski, Kim Sundstrom from SIDA region office in Lusaka, Seynabou Tall, Technical Gender adviser UNFPA, Nafissatou Diop, Coordinator of the joint programme on FGM/C at UNFPA, Alain Sibenaler, UNFPA Uganda’s Representative, UNFPA’s head of human rights and gender Luis Mora, UNICEF’s Mar Jubero, and Ministry of Gender’s Idah Kigonya among others.

The team was in Kapchorwa and Amudat districts for the Joint Programme Steering Committee field visit as part of the climax of the Annual global consultation meeting on UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on FGM/C. UNFPA and UNICEF are implementing joint programmes on FGM/C and early child marriage.

Chemutai notes that, “We grew up in the hands of our grandmothers who told us stories and prepared us for adolescent stages. But now this role is neglected in the communities. That is why we are trying to do what we should have done long time ago to save tomorrow’s generation from FGM and early child marriage.”

The grandmothers approach is implemented by REACH, a partner of UNICEF on FGM/C and early child marriage. Beatrice Chelangat, the Program Coordinator REACH says the grandmothers underwent training to enable them understand their roles and expectations in the campaign to end FGM/C and Child Marriage. This was after UNICEF had trained REACH about the approach in 2011.

The grandmothers’ approach looks at the cross/inter-generation communication with an aim of changing behaviors. In Uganda, REACH adopted the approach from Senegal where it was first introduced in the fight against FGM/C in 2009. A concept to localise it was developed and piloted in 2012 and in 2013, the pilot was undertaken with REACH in Amudat and Nakapiripirit districts. The initiative was then expanded in 2014/2015.

According to Marianna Garofalo, UNICEF Child Protection Specialist who was part of the field visit, a group of grand mothers who act as role models are trained and sensitised on the subject matter and thereafter encouraged to pass on the same messages to their grandchildren with the confidence that the grandmothers/elders in the communities are influential and champions.

The idea is that the grandmothers’ sons listen to them and they in away possess a lot of influence on who their sons marry in addition to undertaking interactions with their daughters-in-law.

Rebecca Kwagala, Chief of Moroto Zone Office, UNICEF says the grandmothers play a critical role at household and homestead level, adding that through them, a number of girls in the communities have remained uncut or rescued from FGM, mainly a result of the one-one advocacy they spearhead. Through this approach, the grandmothers also promote go back to school and stay in school campaigns, also implemented by UNICEF.

She explained that through a wide range of orientations, the initiative is now implemented in three districts of Sebei region-Kapchorwa, Kween, Bukwo with focus on ending child marriage.  The grandmothers are oriented on issues of child protection especially the need for them to appreciate raising children as children and not to be married off when young.

The teams also visited Ngaimbirir Primary School, Reproductive Health Uganda clinic in Kapchorwa district, Looro Sub Country in Amudat where two villages denounced FGM, Looro Child Friendly Space also in Amudat and listened to detailed presentations from the district authorities of Kapchorwa and Amudat on the progress, achievements, challenges and new plans of fighting FGM/C in the districts.

The Kapchorwa district community development officer Harriet Aseko noted that between 1990-2012, 7,363 girls are reported uncut. She attributes the drop in the prevalence to the enactment of the FGM Act 2010 and aggressive interventions and mechanisms by partners.

Objectives of the mission included, assessing progress in achieving the Joint Programme goal on social norms change, identifying existing best practices, opportunities, draw backs and strength of the programme, meet and interact with the primary beneficiaries of the programme including survivors of FGM/C.



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