The story titled, â€œBukwo RDC orders arrest of female circumcision promoters,â€ in the New Vision of October 8, 2008 intrigued me. The RDC reportedly based his directive on the grounds that female circumcision (genital mutilation) is unjust and contravenes the Constitution. I agree that the practice is harmful because it can lead to fatal complications such as hemorrhage, urinary track infection and shock.
It is also a violation of human rights and should be outlawed. However, using the Police to arrest and prosecute perpetrators may not be the best approach.
The Sabiny attach a lot of importance to female genital mutilation (FGM), which explains why it has existed for centuries.
Firstly, it is a rite of passage for preparing young girls for womanhood, marriage and responsibility. Regardless of age, an uncircumcised woman is considered a girl and cannot be trusted with any position of responsibility, including talking in public. She is considered a coward and a shame to the clan and family. Therefore, one would rather please the clan and family by getting circumcised other than remaining a â€œgirl.â€
Secondly, an uncircumcised woman is a victim of stigma and discrimination. She cannot perform certain responsibilities like milking cows, getting food from the granaries and collecting cow-dung from kraals for plastering huts.
Few peers would have her as a friend and she is always a laughing stock for the community.
This is because she is considered unclean. This stigma may explain why uncircumcised Sabiny women who elope into marriage go back to their parents for circumcision.
Thirdly, before the circumcision, the candidates are taken to secluded places where they meet with elderly women to talk to them on how to â€œmanageâ€ their homes, including their husbands.
Confidential information is passed on to the candidates and they are told never to reveal the information until death. They are told that breaking this rule leads to premature death,
Fourthly, when a girl braves circumcision she brings a lot of pride to the family and she is showered with lots of gifts. It is also assurance that she is fit for marriage and therefore a source of bride wealth for the family.
Gifts given to the candidates of circumcision motivate them to go for the ritual. Its for these reasons that the Police is not best placed to fight the ritual. Female circumcision is rooted in the Sabiny culture.
More subtle approaches such as peer education are better. Under this approach, few influential girls, especially the candidates for circumcision, are trained on the effects of the practice so that they in turn influence their peers to abandon it. REACH, a project funded by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) used this approach in Kapchorwa district, which saw circumcision prevalence drop tremendously.
Provision of alternative initiation rituals for girls is also crucial. A one-week camp where the candidates of circumcision are dissuaded can be considered. All other activities, except circumcision, may take place in such camps. For example, elderly women lecturing the candidates and giving gifts to the girls may go on except circumcision.
It is also important to mobilising and educate elderly men and women who are custodians of culture about the effects of female circumcision.
A long-term remedy is educating girls to higher levels because the higher the education level of a girl the higher the probability of denouncing circumcision.
The writer is a member of the Gulu Gender-Based Violence Group
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It is wrong for Police to fight against FGM