Reviews & Profiles
No more cutting - UNFP boss
Posted Wednesday, February 6 2013 at 00:00
Every February 6, Uganda joins the rest of the world to commemorate the International Day Against Female Genital Mutilation. While the vice is still looming, government and non government organisations have not laid down their guns. United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is one of such NGOs. Sarah Tumwebaze spoke to the UNFPA Representative in Uganda, Ms Janet Jackson, about the vice.
What is Female Genital Mutilation and how far has the campaign against the vice gone?
Female genital mutilations are a harmful practice that constitutes a serious threat to the health of women and girls. It affects their psychological, sexual and reproductive health, which can increase their vulnerability to HIV and may have adverse obstetric and prenatal outcomes as well as fatal consequences for the mother and the newborn.
In the last years, UNFPA and partners have intensified efforts to strengthen community mobilisation against FGM/C, thanks to the French government, the Global Trust Fund who have supported the United Nations and Government of Uganda (Ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development) Joint Programme. The Joint Programme on FGM that is spearheaded by UNFPA and UNICEF has not only contributed to the implementation of the Anti-Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Act 2009, but has also mobilised communities, including clan leaders, religious leaders, women groups, youth groups, elders and even ex-cutters in bringing about change. Community awareness campaigns through radio talk shows, community dialogues, church sermons, cultural events and one-on-one sensitisation has continued to change individuals and community attitudes about FGM. As a result, we have seen many cutters giving up their knives and whole communities declaring abandonment of FGM.
What are the statistics? How many girls have been mutilated?
FGM/C is the procedure of total or partial removal of female genitalia. While in Uganda it is practiced by less than one per cent of the total population, the percentage is high among the communities in Eastern and Northern Uganda where 95 per cent of Pokot and 50 per cent of Sabiny women undergo FGM/C. Reports also indicate that FGM is widely practiced among the Tepeth.
Given the nature of the cutting, it is increasingly hard to establish actual numbers because most of the cutting is done underground in the hard to reach mountainous villages. However estimates indicate that about 31 women and girls in Moroto, especially among the Tepeth were cut last year, between 150-200 women and girls in Sebei region that is in Kween Bukwo and Kapchorwa were cut. For Nakapiriptit, we got to know of only 17 cases and for Amudat the actual number of women and girls who were cut is not yet clear.
How many girls/women have been saved from the cut?
In 2012, we managed to save 116 girls in Amudat and in Moroto.
Have the numbers been going down over the years?
As the law takes force and more communities declare abandonment, we observe from the reports we get that the cutting is more likely to take place in remote villages that are very hard to reach. From what we know, the numbers are going down overall and this is good for women’s equality and girls’ opportunities.
Which areas in Uganda practice the vice?
The practicing communities of Female Genital Mutilation include the Sabiny, Pokot, Kadam, and Tepeth in Sebei, Amudat, Nakapiripirit and Moroto districts respectively. Among the Pokot and Tepeth communities, girls are cut between the age of seven and 14, after which they are married off to men old enough to be their fathers or grandfathers.
What are the achievements of your campaign?
In the last two years, we have seen cutters surrendering their knives and abandoning FGM. Girls are running away from being cut and seeking refugee in safe havens such as schools. Communities are declaring abandonment of FGM including whole villages, women groups and youth groups.
Last year, over 51 communities in east- and northeastern Uganda publically announced that they were abandoning FGM/C. We saw cutters surrender their knives to the authorities saying, “No more cutting!” Clan elders, religious leaders and even parents openly denounced FGM/C and protected their girls from being cut.
We need many more positive stories like this, because the continuous abuse of girls and women’s rights is unacceptable, as is them having their reproductive health incessantly compromised.
What are some of the challenges?
Because of intensified action and because of the law, the practice is going underground. The cutters are starting to do it at night or to cross over to neighbouring countries such as Kenya and do it from there. But with increased sensitisation and collaboration with neighbouring countries, the vice will be eliminated.
Do you have any other partners you work with, what are their roles?
The Joint Programme on FGM is spearheaded by UNFPA and Unicef working in partnership with the Government of Uganda under the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development. We work with local partners including community based institutions and religious based institutions.
Over the years, we have continued to work with the six programme districts of Amudat, Bukwo, Kapchorwa, Kween, Moroto, and Nakapiripirit, and partnered with, faith based organisations, national and local NGOs including Reproductive Education and Community Health (Reach), Law Uganda, Arbeiter-Samariter-bund (ASB), Transcultural Psychosocial Development (TPO), Moroto Catholic Diocese, Mathenical Zonal Integrated Development programme (Mazidep), Pokot Zonal Integrated Development (Pozidep), Reproductive Health Uganda (RHU), Vision CARE. Focus has been on increasing awareness on FGM/C effects, understanding of the law and the role of stakeholder in FGM/C abandonment.
Do you have any programme to help the girls/women who have been mutilated?
Yes, 1,365 survivors and close relatives received guidance and counselling. Among them were, 13 families of survivors of FGM/C, 13 women of Abongai Village and 1,130 FGM survivors who received psychosocial support from the CBO social workers. In addition, 116 FGM women and girls who experienced complications following FGM were supported to access medical care at the health centre and psychosocial counseling.
As a result of the awareness raising, counselling of communities and dissemination of the law, more than 104 girls run away from Amudat for safety to Lakas Primary School in July 2012.