The fight against female genital mutilation using the law seems to be faltering. The dreadful practice which can alter, or injure female genital organs, can also lead to severe bleeding, problems when urinating, potential childbirth complications and newborn deaths. For this, FGM is considered a violation of the human rights of girls and women. In Uganda, the Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Act is meant to put this horrendous practice on check. However, pegging heavily on the law to end FGM is seemingly an uphill task.
There is a saying that when you want to clear a forest, you do not only cut the canopy; you must also cut down the trees that build the canopy. Therefore, the anti-FGM advocates should tackle the problem right from its roots. According to World Health Organisation (WHO), an estimated 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM. In Africa alone, an estimated 92 million girls from 10 years of age and above have undergone FGM while every year, three million girls are thought to be at risk of the practice.
The dilemma of using the law to fight FGM arises from the fact that communities that practice FGM such as the Sabiny, do not seem to appreciate the reality that FGM is a criminal act. For instance, FGM victims are not willing to report the crime visited upon them. How then will the law rescue them? In the many communities where FGM is revered, elders and girls/women remain passionate about the practice. While many elders consider FGM as cultural procedure their daughters must undergo, the girls regard it as a critical cultural ‘baptism’ that ushers them into being respectable women in their communities.
As was seen in France recently, it was not until victims of FGM became adults capable of making their independent decisions that the law benefited them. The law did not prevent them from being mutilated as children. In most cases, laws are only passed to satisfy those who make them. Indeed, the number of girls being subjected to FGM in some countries where the practice is illegal has not reduced. For example, a law in Egypt forbids circumcision operations even when the parents agree to it. However, it allows for it if ‘medically necessary’.
In Uganda, recent press reports that scores of Sabiny girls/women from Kapchorwa District crossed into Kenya to be cut confirms the shortcoming of using the law to fight FGM. There is therefore need to explore and apply non-legal means too:
First, the Sabiny, like many other local communities, are dominated by peasants whose submission to culture is absolute. To weaken their conviction to the abhorrent FGM culture, the government should invest in a special sensitisation programme whose focus should be to change people’s mindset.
The programme should target, especially the elders, women leaders, youth leaders, opinion leaders, LCs, business people, and teachers, among others, who should then be subjected to a sustained anti-FGM sensitisation campaign. The government should also consider rewarding, especially households that abandon FGM. Others who should be listed for reward should include the people who report to the authorities the promoters of the practice, those who fight it as well as those who have never submitted to it.
The government should also build schools in Sebei region to absorb, especially the girl-child. This can help separate young girls from the cruel hands of their culturally-inclined elders who use them as vehicles for promoting the moribund culture. Besides, the anti-FGM messengers should be armed with the right literature that is presented in the local language.
Mr Obuku is a journalist