Recently, a Cabinet female minister reportedly condemned the female genital mutilation (FGM) and labia elongation cultural practices, arguing that they are against the dignity of women. The minister’s condemnation of the practices should not be taken lightly.
By law, although promoting cultural and customary values, which are consistent with the fundamental human rights and human dignity of the people are supposed to be protected, Chapter 33(6) of the Constitution of Uganda prohibits the customs and traditions that are against the dignity, welfare and interest of women.
Even Section 7 of the Children’s Act, prohibits subjecting children to harmful social or customary practices. This automatically implies that genital mutilation is prohibited. Traditionally, it was carried out by the Pokot and the Sabiny. Labia elongation on the other hand, was/is mainly carried out by the Baganda, Banyoro, Batoro, Basoga, Banyankore, Bakiga and Rwandans.
The challenge with these particular laws is that they do not specify the customs and cultures that are harmful to the dignity of women, hence the element of societal perception comes in.
Whereas some practices such as labia elongation (visiting the bush) is considered as good by some people, others perceive it to be outdated and barbaric, hence an infringement on the privacy of women or girls, since it is carried out with the help of other women.
Surprisingly, these two practices are not carried out on adult women, but on adolescent girls whose bodies are still soft. Hence, some primary, secondary, tertiary and university female students are subjected to these practices.
The practices are done not to promote the girl-child education, but to prepare them for marriage, since it is believed men from the societies where those rituals are performed, love to get women who have undergone such rituals.
The question of the association between marriage stability and such rituals, therefore, arises. Are there reliable longitudinal and comparative studies to support the claims?
As a government, which is trying to promote the girl-child education, these practices need not to be promoted. Otherwise, they give a negative impression to girls that they are ready for sex and marriage, hence adolescent pregnancy, HIV infection and school dropout.
Although pregnancy, HIV infection and school dropout also do occur in societies where these practices are not carried out, that does not negate the fact that the practices are contributing factors in the areas where they are carried out.
Girls who undergo these rituals are also subjected to mental stress, and health hazards as some of them bleed and swell in the genitalia.
How about the practice in western Uganda where adolescent girls are usually given herbs to boost their vaginal fluids so as to please their future husbands? How relevant is it for school-going children? Shouldn’t the law makers condemn it?
In this 21st Century of science and technology, we need to remember that culture is not like God’s laws. It should be dynamic if it is to be meaningful.
Prof Vincent Kayindu,