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Why Gov’t efforts to end FGM in Eastern Uganda still a challenge even after denouncing it in 2010?

Female Genital Mutilation in Uganda

In 2010, FGM was made illegal with the passing of the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Act. This act criminalizes those who mutilate or attempt to mutilate girls or women, and those who seek to undergo FGM.

Hon minister for Gender and cultural affairs, Peace Regis Mutuuzo speaking to the sabiny community (Photos by: Isabirye Simon Peter/DailyExpress)

This reporting was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Gender Justice Reporting Initiative. (IWMF)

For many years ago, residents of some districts in Eastern Uganda have practiced Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The custom is common in Karamoja and Sebei sub regions, which comprises the districts of Amudat, Nakapiripirit, Moroto, Kween, Kapchorwa, Bukwo, among others. It is mostly carried out by the Pokot in Karamoja and the Sabiny community of Sebei. Sub-region.

In 2010, FGM was made illegal with the passing of the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Act. This act criminalizes those who mutilate or attempt to mutilate girls or women, and those who seek to undergo FGM.

In some of the districts in eastern Uganda where Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is most common, community members have argued that although this ban has helped to change attitudes towards the practice, it has also driven the practice underground.

DailyExpress carried out investigations into why the ritual continues even as a law banning it is now in place. And we found that some of the challenges are the absence of sufficient schools to educate the young generation about the disadvantages of the practice.

The families that want their girls to be mutilated have to find ways of doing so without drawing the attention of the authorities or of those who might report them. This prompts them to perform the FGM practice in hiding in a private home or a hideout under the cover of night.

DailyExpress spoke to some women who were mutilated before the practice was considered illegal and they told this website that they were influenced during 2000s and had to bow to the dictates of the cultural belief.

Some women who were mutilated before existence of the law sharing experiences in an interview

Clebet Zuraha, a resident of Moruita Sub-County in Nakapiripirit district (Karamoja sub region) says she was abused in 2004 to an extent of being referred to as a non-Pokot woman since she had not been “circumcised.” Eventually, she felt so psychologically tortured that she succumbed to pressure and ended up getting mutilated. However, she says that the practice is painful and doesn’t advise anyone to undergo it.

“In 2004, I was at school and my friends kept on calling me a non-Pokot woman since I wasn’t mutilated by then. This tortured me psychologically and I later decided to go for mutilation,” Zuraha said. “I don’t advise anyone to go for FGM given the pain I went through.”

Zuhara says there were other girls who were mutilated along with her. She said that after mutilation her schoolmates started considering her as a Pokot woman and could associate with everyone without hurling the previous insults and harassment that she had endured before undergoing FGM.

“After undergoing FGM, my friends at school started associating with me and there was no insults and harassment at all,” she said.

Apun Cecilia from Moruita Sub-County also has a related experience after undergoing FGM at 12 years while at school. “I was mutilated when I was still a girl,” she said. “FGM is painful and tough consequences comes along with it, majorly failure to have normal births and some end up being operated.”

“I was unable to have normal birth and I was operated eventually. I failed to push the baby and the birth attendant told me that it resulted due to the scar which was developed from the cutting of my clitoris,” Apun narrated.

Apun regrets undergoing FGM but attributes what she went through to her parents who never went to school whom she said could have advised her otherwise. Indeed, there aren’t enough school in both Sebei and Karamoja sub regions and this has hindered education in the areas.

“My parents were not educated and could not easily identify the consequences of Female Genital Mutilation,” she said.

Sabiny and Karamojong men dancing at the Sabiny Cultural Day on Dec 21, 2021

Some areas in Kapchorwa district lack government-aided secondary schools and the few primary schools they have are in a sorry state. Pupils and students move long distances of between 15 to 20 kilometers to access education. Many don’t have both.

The Chairperson Kapsinda Sub-County, Mr Cherop Moses, says that government has not done enough to sensitize people in villages about the dangers of FGM, causing the habit to continue underground despite the laws prohibiting it.

Cherop said that education opens the minds of girls to think beyond FGM, but their Sub County lacks a secondary school and students move long distances and end up dropping out of school. He requested the government to provide them with a government-aided secondary school and sponsor some girls up to university so that they serve as examples when they go back to their villages.

“We request government to provide us with a government-aided secondary school and also sponsor some girls up to university so that they serve as examples when they come back here in the villages,” Cherop said.

The government of Uganda however, introduced a system where every sub county should have at least one government aided secondary school but many sub counties in these areas lacks any.

The government has made several efforts to end FGM. But even after Parliament outlawed FGM over a decade ago, the dangerous practice of cutting girls’ genitalia has continued in some communities in the east and Northeast of Uganda.

In places like Amudat District, which is home to the conservative Pokot community, FGM is mostly practiced within the Sabiny community.

According to a report produced by ‘Uganda28 Too Many’ in 2018, the FGM prevalence in Karamoja was 6.4% among 10 year and above girls.

This practice is performed by older women called ‘surgeons’ but they have no medical training. The report on FGM prevalence puts Pokot tribe of Karamoja at 95% and Sabiny of Sebei at 50%. It puts Uganda’s national average at less than 1% prevalence.

According to United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), six cases of FGM were registered in 2021 in Amudat district compared to 13 cases in 2020 basing on the district brief presentation during a high-level visit led by the then state minister for Gender labour and social development, Hon Peace Regis Mutuuzo.

Hon minister for Gender and cultural affairs, Peace Regis Mutuuzo speaking to the sabiny community

Speaking to DailyExpress, a waitress in a Kapchorwa-based bar, who declined to be named so she could speak freely on the subject, says that they were born nine girls, but they survived since their mother kept on discouraging them from the vice despite the insistence of their father that his daughters should be mutilated.

“We were born 9 girls and my mother continued discouraging us from FGM but my father wanted it. This brought some misunderstandings at home between my mother and my father,” she said.

“My mother was mutilated and didn’t wish any of her daughters to undergo the pain she endured. The good thing my mother was educated and could always make sure that we study. We managed to study, and my elder sisters are helping my parents well though they didn’t undergo FGM.”

The source says that her mother regretted undergoing a practice which is painful.
She added that the major issue fueling the practice is the mutilators (cutters) who seek to earn a living from the practice, citing that they receive between 15,000= to 30,000= from the family of every girl they cut.

“Some FGM surgeons kept on coming at home to persuade my mother to have us mutilated but she insisted not to mutilate us. I’m fine and I don’t regret for not undergoing the practice,” she said.

What other local leaders say

The LC 5 councilor for Moruita Sub-County, Lonyee John Kiyonga, says that many girls have been smuggled to Kenya for mutilation and return after healing. He says that most girls find FGM as a requirement for marriage and end up doing it in the nearby country.

Mr Lonyee said that the local people haven’t been involved in sensitizing against FGM citing that people coming outside the region are the ones being employed in fighting FGM, yet they lack it’s experience. These people eventually target towns leaving villages unattended to, which maintains the practice underground in villages.

He says that statistics in his sub county stands at 12% indicating that there is a drop in the practice, however, he quoted Covid19 as the cause of the raising cases in the area.

Some reformed mutilators testifying at last year’s cultural day in Bukwo district

The LC 5 Chairperson of Kween district, Mr. Lobot Joseph Nangole, says that most men always disrespect and harass women who were not cut to a point of refusing them to attend to some works at home like milking, fetching water, renovating their houses by smearing cow dung, among others.
He said that many people have failed to denounce FGM since their mothers were mutilated and fear to be quoted wrongly by them.

Mr Nangole said some men insults uncut women in case they made any mistake, which he says puts so much pressure on women that they eventually undergo mutilation.

The role of Police

The community liaison officer of Kapchorwa district, Sgt Chelimo Nathan, noted that the practice is mostly done in remote areas like in Kapsinda Sub-County and police find it difficult to access such areas given the poor terrain.

They are preaching against the practice via local radio stations and community policing, but that alone is not a sufficient deterrent.

Sgt Chelimo also said that locals are reluctant to release any information to police concerning the FGM practice. However, he added that they are trying to employ locals to feed them with information. Called on government for more financial.

The acting Regional Police Commander for Sipi region, SP Ochieng Moses Sure, told us that they have decided to work with NGOs and local leaders and sensitize people as well as prosecute those who take part in FGM. SP Ochieng admitted that it’s not easy to eliminate FGM in a short time since locals consider it as a part of their culture.

He said that many girls cross to Kenya using the porous borders, which poses a challenge to security in fighting FGM. He says that people need to be sensitized about their rights and why they need to avoid getting involved in acts which violate their rights. He added that the practice has greatly reduced by over 80% in Sebei sub region.

Meanwhile, ASP Chepkwurui Patricia, the Regional Child and Family Protection Department (RCFPD), said that parents need to be sensitized and take children (girls) to school citing that an educated person cannot allow their children to be mutilated/ cut.

Ms Chepkwurui says that she received a case where a couple developed a misunderstanding when a husband allegedly abandoned his wife sexually because she wasn’t mutilated, and the woman decided to report to police. She says that men should not be left behind in the sensitization process against FGM since they decide a lot in homes.

“I received a case when a woman was abandoned by her husband sexually because she wasn’t mutilated. There was a lot of misunderstandings between the couple and we informed them how dangerous was the vice of FGM. But again, men should always be on the forefront of fighting this practice since they decide a lot in most families”, she said.

Source of income

Some of the reformed mutilators or cutters who we found in Amudat district said that they dropped the said job after the government introduced the anti-FGM law. They used to earn a living from the practice until the law against FGM was introduced in Uganda.

Anna Chepureto, a reformed cutter and a resident of Kakres village, Jombe Sub-county in Amudat district, said that though they were getting money out of mutilation, they had to abandon it after the law came in place.

“I used to earn money out of mutilation, but I dropped the work after the law came in place. I was also approached by a man of God who preached to me that FGM is a human rights abuse and decided to avoid it,” Chepureto said.

She, however, urged the government to consider them in any programme since they are ageing and are unable to earn a living by any other means.

Rodah Cheposait, another reformed cutter, says that the government of Uganda should include them as experienced people of FGM in the programmes of sensitization against FGM since they are the people on ground who can reach the most girls and women in deeper villages.

What cultural leaders say

The cultural leader Sebei region, who doubles as the district representative for elderly persons in Bukwo Local government, Henry Chesakit Kabwamba, said that they are on ground to fight the practice but they face various challenges like crossing borders for FGM. They want the government to fully intervene.

He said that some girls are smuggled from Bukwo and Amudat of Uganda to Kenya for mutilation and they are brought back after two to three weeks when they have healed. He also blamed some traditional birth attendants who mutilate women when they go to deliver.

Mr Kabwamba says that the practice is more prevalent in Amudat district, a community of the Pokot tribe who normally mutilate their daughters in Kenya before bringing them back. He tasked the government to hold cross boarder meetings of elders to stir up the fight.

Sabiny and Karamojong women dancing at the Sabiny Cultural Day on Dec 21, 2021

He (Kabwamba) quoted the need for girls to be taken to school as well as empowering the cultural members and religious leaders in fighting the habit.

As a cultural leader, Kabwamba said that they are fighting the practice since many of their girls who were cut are frustrated and cannot marry in other regions of Uganda like Bugisu, Western Uganda, among others.

“We have emphasized taking girls to school as well as empowering the cultural members and religious leaders in fighting the habit,” he said.

“As cultural leaders, we are fighting the practice since many of their girls who were mutilated are frustrated and cannot marry in other regions of Uganda like Bugisu, Western Uganda, among others,” Kabwamba added.

Given the porous borders of Uganda to Kenya at Bukwo and Amudat districts, Leaders continue blaming authorities for not intervening fully to block such entries to Kenya, where most of Pokots are mutilated before returning after they have healed.

What civil society organisations say

Some organizations have been at the forefront of ending the practice through sensitization but some are the challenges they face as they execute their work. The Kapchorwa Civil Society Organization Alliance (KACSOA) started in 2010 by engaging youths in drama related activities to disseminate information against FGM.

The Executive director of Kapchorwa Civil Society Organization Alliance (KACSOA), George Kiprotich, says that they have engaged youths who are celebrities, musicians in drama groups to engage in spreading the message against FGM practice.

Despite engaging youths in the fight, efforts are still less given the unwillingness by politicians to denounce the practice. Local politicians fear to be voted out in case of de-campaigning FGM.

“The political leaders are not publicly involved in denouncing FGM since they fear to be voted out,” Kiprotich said.

He says that they have discovered that the traditional birth attendants are also involved in cutting women whenever they go to give birth. Some women avoid FGM at early age but whenever they go to give birth at residence of traditional birth attendants they are mutilated without their consent.

“When women go to deliver at traditional attendants’ places, they are cut, and they may think it’s delivery pain yet she was mutilated in the process”

KACSOA claims that there is need to bring together stakeholders like religious leaders, cultural Leaders, political leaders, who always speak to the people such that they can preach against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) with a united voice.
Being a cultural attached habit according to the people, some people fails to denounce it whenever speaking to people in public places.

Mr. Kiprotich urged government of Uganda to operationalize the policy which will enable the anti-FGM law felt and also urged Members of Parliament to also push for a board or commission so that the government can allocate funds of fighting the practice through the commission.

“Government should provide or work closely with FGM surgeons by training them an alternative way of earning a living other than thinking about earning from FGM,” he added.

The Reproductive and Community Health (REACH) organization is also stretching arms in many districts as they preach against FGM practice. The director general of REACH, Beatrice Chelangat, called on government to ensure good service delivery in districts where FGM exists.

She said that government should invest in education, road network, among others so as the message can reach down to people.
“The road network in Karamoja and Sebei is poor, and this has hindered the campaign against the practice since it’s difficult for people to access deep villages to convey the message.”

Ms Chelangat says that their program needs to reach consistent outreaches to women in villages to befriend them and make them role models but they face financial constraints due to low funding.
“The number of girls in the region continues to grow but the financial envelope is not enough so we call upon government of Uganda to fund us with money, vehicles, motorcycles to move the campaign down to the people and as well bring the practice of FGM to zero”, Ms Chelangat added with a humble face.

Gaps in the anti-FGM law

The senior probation and social welfare officer of Kapchorwa district local government, Ms Tina Cheptoyet, says some women are forced into FGM by push factors like drinking, polygamy, poverty, low-level of education, among others. Says that FGM in Kapchorwa district exists in three sub counties i.e Kaptanya, West Division and Kapsinda, which are the noted hotspot sub counties.

She said that some people are looking at the practice as a source of income while other men or women insults others who didn’t undergo FGM, and this forces them to be mutilated.

Cheptoyet told DailyExpress that women in polygamous families keeps on humiliating others who were not mutilated and referring to them as girls and this has caused many women to embrace the practice.

She said that the anti-FGM law 2010 has some gaps which needs to be covered for the practice to be brought to zero. “The FGM act doesn’t protect the whistleblowers and many people have failed to report since they are taken openly in court to testify and later seen as enemies in the public. We urge government to amend the Act such that the whistleblowers are protected”, Ms Cheptoyet said.

The fight against FGM has seen some activities held in areas of Sebei and Karamoja particularly targeted to preach the need to completely drop the practice.

Every year, a cultural function dubbed ‘Sabiny Cultural Day’ (SCD) is organized to preach the news against FGM and making some evaluations in fighting it. In 2021, the function was held on December 21 in Bukwo district under the theme ‘Everybody must participate in ending FGM now’.

The Deputy Community Development Officer (DCDO) Bukwo district, Francis Cherotwo, presented a report with challenges hindering the successful fight against FGM and among the driving factors he cited were inaccessibility to remote areas due to poor road network and bad roads, low education levels, porous borders along the republic of Kenya, Gender Based Violence (GBV), practice done in secrecy and concealing of information by the public without opening up in case of any FGM act going on or yet to happen.

“The status of GBV in Bukwo is high. In 2021, the cases reported on sexual gender violence were 321, teenage pregnancies at 987 cases, child marriages at 365 cases, gender-based violence at 343 cases, the number of orphans and vulnerable registered was 1,241 cases as well as 8 cases for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)”, reads part of the report which was generated by the community department, police, medical personnel and other organizations in the fight like KACSOA.

He says that this recorded data was due to Covid19 taken with in one year citing that many must have passed unrecorded.
Mr. Cherotwo attested that FGM in Bukwo district has reduced drastically from 99% to around 1% currently and that the 1% is only concentrated in three Sub-counties.
“FGM in Bukwo district has reduced drastically from 99% to around 1% currently and the 1% is only concentrated in three Sub-counties”, says Mr. Cherotwo.

He urged government of Uganda and cultural leaders to come up with events promoting good rituals and a corrective rite of passage to womanhood. DCDO says that the government should also engage rural communities, especially those along boarders through embracing dialogues, meetings and surveillances.

He also called upon political leaders to join hands and denounce FGM other than doing it behind doors.

What government has done

While speaking to DailyExpress after the cultural function, the State Minister for Gender and Cultural Affairs, Hon Peace Regis Mutuuzo, said that government is trying to address all challenges hindering the fight against FGM.

At the function, which was held at Amanang playground, Amanang Sub-county in Bukwo district, Minister Mutuuzo said that they are engaging men in the regions to preach against FGM across the regions and to convince people that the government is not fighting their culture but for them to know that it’s not good to mutilate girls and women since it violates their rights. She said that men decide a lot in the families and its why they are targeting them to fight for the rights of their daughters and wives.

“We are engaging men in the region to preach against FGM across areas of Sebei and Karamoja. Government is also trying to convince people that no one is fighting their culture but informing them that it’s not good to mutilate girls and women since it violates their rights,” Minister Mutuuzo said.

Minister said that government is trying to see that the region is fully connected in road network to make hideouts for FGM accessible, and the message reaches on ground.
“We are breaking through because we have dropped the practice from 90% to 0.3%. Our only dilemma came during Covid19 time when schools were closed and girls were turned into commercial commodities”, says Minister Mutuuzo.

In 2021, the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) launched the construction of the Kween- Bukwo road, spanning close to 50km through the mountainous areas. Minister Mutuuzo says the road will be done by end of 2022.

Hon Mutuuzo says that they have engaged and are still engaging their counterparts in the neighboring countries like Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Tanzania in cross border meetings to see that the practice is fought in all corners since others have been opting for nearby countries for mutilation.

Hon Minister told this Radio that government is devising alternative way of passage for women in Karamoja and Sebei subregions and as well strengthening the law which prohibits the practice of Female Genital Mutilation.

On October 1, 2021, Minister Mutuuzo, with a team from Gender Ministry, officiated at a high border cross meeting in Liwo Sub-county of Bukwo district and promised that the government will set up a girls’ secondary school and technical institute in the Sub-county. However, this has not been achieved yet.

This meeting saw over 15 cutters and mentors reformed and they visited the western region of Uganda for exposure and teaching them the dangers of this practice.

In 2021 still, there was an inter-ministerial crossborder meeting at Munyonyo hotel in Kampala and ministers pledged to fight FGM collectively.

This reporting was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Gender Justice Reporting Initiative. (IWMF)

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