By Ahabwe Mugerwa Michael
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women, in part because it constitutes an extreme form of discrimination. Within the practice, girls between eight and fourteen years of age are cut by elderly women who are untrained in medicine and often use unsterilized razor blades or knives. The practice, allegedly, initiates these girls into womanhood and subsequently leads to early marriages.
FGM has no health benefits, and the harm it causes victims has both short and long term health consequences, including infection such as HIV from unsterilized instruments, psychological trauma, and, in some cases, death from excessive bleeding. Later in life, FGM can lead to complications in childbirth and increase the risk of the mother and infant mortality (1).
In East Africa, FGM is practiced by several tribes with proponents arguing that it initiates girls into womanhood and increases their chances of being married off. Other tribes believe that cutting off some of parts of the females genitalia like the clitoris reduces cases of girls and married women engaging in sex outside the boundaries of marriage. Promoters of FGM have little regard (if any) for girls and women’s lives lost or for the suffering that they experience after undergoing this cruel and life-threatening ordeal.
Despite the recently passed legislation against Female Genital Mutilation in some East Africa Community member States, hundreds of infants, girls, and women are still forced to undergo the knife. Young girls run away from their homes for fear of undergoing FGM and miss school while others drop out of school. Local political leaders shy from publicly condemning the practice for fear of losing elections; and in some cases they have even helped offenders escape being prosecuted in Courts of law. Girls and women are not informed about their rights and protection provided by the available legislations (2). My visits to communities that practice FGM in Eastern Uganda have exposed to me to the need to continuously inform communities about the dangers of the practice and to empower communities directly to take part in projects and efforts that end FGM. Such community empowerment emerges from increased investment in girls’ education, assisting local rights activists in leading anti-FGM activities, and continuously exposing the dangers of FGM through locally preferred forms such as film, and dance and drama performances, which can easily be used to engage illiterate communities.
During my most recent trip in February to a community that practices FGM in Eastern Uganda, I met girls who had been forced to undergo Female Genital Mutilation and needed collective surgery. As a result of unskilled surgical cutting, many of the girls pass urine uncontrollably and require surgery to fix their fistula. My trip inspired me to work to create positive change in these communities; and I am to help girls live in safer communities that promote their full potential as individuals. I decided to produce a film documentary about girls and women forced to undergo Female Genital Mutilation in order to bring personal stories to the world about girls and women who are either at risk of being forced into FGM or those who have experienced health complications or death as a result of undergoing FGM. I am now in my final stages to travel to Eastern Uganda, and Western and Central Kenya between April through to May to film and produce the documentary. Via Indiegogo I am raising funds to make film, organize public screenings across East Africa, and carry out FGM campaigns that organize a procession of hundreds of Activists to deliver a petition to the East Legislative Assembly in Arusha Tanzania. I am excited by the prospect of reaching to millions of people and inspiring change through film a to make a difference.
FGM is not only a women’s issue. Men must also actively take part in ending Female Genital Mutilation instead of promoting it, as is the case in communities that practice FGM, where men argue that it produces better wives. By educating about the dangers of Female Genital Mutilation and assessing our community needs, we can then shape our own plans to completely stop Female Genital Mutilation. It’s our communal duty to protect and observe women’s rights and human rights, to end the social, cultural, and political causes of Female Genital Mutilation, and, above all, to demand for action from governments. I am committed to lead the call for change and help girls live healthier lives.
Currently he serves as an associate consultant with Praxis Consult International, working on a girl-child education program in South Sudan. He previously volunteered with Lawyers Collective as a Uganda research partner in charge of identifying, summarizing, and translating court cases that impact the right to health in Uganda.
In addition to working on ending Female Genital Mutilation in East Africa, he is a food rights advocate and change maker, and he and has 10 years in the non profit sector. Ahabwe is an experienced public speaker with who has shared work both Uganda, South Sudan, and the U.S.
(1) The World Health Organization, “Female Genital Mutilation,” Fact Sheet No. 241 (February 2014): http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs241/en/.
(2) Center for Human Rights and Policy Studies: www.chupost.org.
Tracy McVeigh and Tara Sutton, The Observer, 24 July 2010.