Despite being outlawed in 2010 by the Female Genital Mutilation Act, some girls and women in Sebei and Karamoja sub-regions are still subjected to the barbaric practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
During a recent visit to Kapchorwa, Kween and Bukwo districts courtesy of UNFPA Uganda office and Church of Uganda, I had a rare opportunity to interact with a number of concerned Sabiny men and women. These included the clergy, NGO representatives, local government and community leaders, an ex-cutter, and one Jackie, an FGM survivor.
I call Jackie a survivor because she was brave enough to share her story without breaking down even after being subjected to the painful and demeaning mutilation of her body.
There are reports of many other young women who were mutilated, and physically and psychologically hurt so much that they still live in a state of fear. They won’t speak out because they don’t feel empowered or courageous enough to do. They do not want to “anger the spirits” and the elders; they do not want to be subjects of ridicule by their peers or husbands. Unlike Jackie, these are FGM victims who need to be empowered and told that their culture will be better off without FGM.
The good news, however, is that such cases are gradually reducing following interventions by the government of Uganda and its partners such as UNFPA to eliminate FGM.
In one of the interventions, UNFPA is encouraging people in Sebei and Karamoja to preserve the meaningful and positive aspects of their culture and give up FGM because it is a violation of the rights of girls and women.
In the past, speaking out against FGM or saying no to it was considered a taboo and it was unheard of in isolated communities where the practice was very common.
In 1988, Sabiny elders are said to have declared FGM a must for every Sabiny woman and girl. This declaration was, however, immediately and openly defied by the then principal of Kapchorwa PTC, Jane Francis Kuka.
Previously, the campaigns against FGM were carried out underground, but after Kuka’s courageous act of defiance, the tables turned and anti-FGM campaigns gained momentum.
While the practice still exists, it is no longer highly revered; it is an outlawed and dying aspect of culture being practiced underground in a few isolated villages and in hidden locations such as caves, forests, bushes and in darkness.
The cutters who are still active as well as the elders who still believe in FGM have, however, not given up.
After realising that the Sabiny community is rejecting the practice, they are now targeting women or girls at the time of delivery because this is when they are most vulnerable.
But with more young women like Jackie choosing to speak out against the practice and joining the campaigns to end FGM, it is time for the cutters to drop the blades and end FGM once and for all.
Soon, there will be no one to cut because Jackie says she would never subject her daughter to the practice. She is also ready to take part in efforts aimed at ending FGM in her homeland. And there are many like her.
With more young Sabiny women getting empowered, speaking out and saying no to FGM, cutters increasingly dropping their blades, FGM will soon be history.
Umar Weswala is a media practioner and UNFPA Social Media activist.