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How shame, stigma and silence are denting war against FGM

Female Genital Mutilation is a painful experience for many women in Sebei sub-region. File photo.



KAPCHORWA. Ms Vicky Chelangat, 30, lost her child at birth. She says the loss is the most painful experience she has ever faced.

“I don’t know why but I lost the baby just like that,” Ms Chelangat says.

Ms Chelangat, from Tukum village, Binyiny sub-county in Kween district, says although she is married, she does not enjoy sex because of the nightmares of sexual pains she has to endure each night.

“When the sun goes down, my panic begins. Sometimes, I engage my children in unnecessary conversations just pass time and keep away from sexual intercourse with my husband,” the mother of six says.

Chelangat won’t disclose this pain to her husband for fear of losing him.

“And because of stigma and abuse, I am compelled to suffer in silence,” she says.

Chelangat’s troubles started in Primary Six in 2006 following the death of her parents. With nobody to pay her fees, she decided to get married at a tender age of 16.

“My mother-in-law kept abusing me and my husband never allowed me to serve him. He would never allow me to get food from the family granary even when it was from my sweat. I was told that until I got circumcised, I would never be allowed in any of their meetings,” Chelangat says.

It was this pressure that forced her to give in to female to FGM at the age of 18.

She consequently went back to her parents in Binyiny in Kween district, one of the districts in Sebei sub-region, to get circumcised, something that has changed her whole life.

“I was at school, I eluded the knife by giving excuses of examinations, tests and seminars but once out of school, I ran out of reasons,” Chelangat says.

Chelangat is among thousands of Sebei girls who have to live with the trauma that comes with FGM.

“The trauma doesn’t stop when you are held down by your mother or your sister or your auntie or your grandmother while the surgeon comes towards you with a rusty knife or whatever tool she may use to cut off what she considers to be useless and dirty,” Chelangat says.

She says besides the psychological pain, shock and the use of physical force by those performing the procedure, she also experiences painful urination brought about by the obstruction of the urethra and recurrent urinary tract infections.

“I have had to go through painful menstruation, irregular menses and difficulty in passing menstrual blood to the level that I have developed a scar in my private parts,” Chelangat says

Ms Chelangat says she one day noticed a fresh cut beneath her genital organ and hid it even from her mother-in-law but when the pain got unbearable, she ran out to ask for help.

“And my mother-in-law told me it was a wound from the FGM which never healed and she blamed it on the surgeon, who she said performed the task poorly,” Ms Chelangat says.

Today, Chelangat lives with a painful testimony of a dangerous cultural practice, female genital circumcision/mutilation (FGC/FGM).

Dr Michael Muwanga, the Kapchorwa District Director of Health Services, says many girls and women who have undergone FGM and live in pain and silence without the desire for their partners.

“… because many of them fear exposing their mutilated genitals, they are forced to deliver at the TBAs, escalating maternal mortality rates in the region,” Dr Muwanga says.

Archbishop Stanley Ntagali says silence is denting the FGM fight. File photo.

Dr Muwanga adds that there is common obstetric complications that result in a higher incidence of infant resuscitation at delivery and fresh stillbirth and neonatal deaths in Sebei sub-region.

He said there is psychological trauma which stems from the pain, shock and the use of physical force by those performing FGM and that in the long term, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and memory loss may occur.

Archbishop of the Church of Uganda Stanley Ntagali while flagging of the 2017 Marathon to end FGM in Sebei sub-region said the shame, stigma and silence that surrounds FGM is what has allowed it to survive to this day.

“I am asking you to break the silence because silence has done nothing for us. In fact silence has ensured that to this day, as we speak, there is a girl somewhere in the world who is crying, bleeding and asking for somebody to stop what is happening to her,” Arch Bishop Ntagali says.

Mr Alain Sibenaler, UNFPA Uganda Country Office representative, urged the girls not to be silent in the face of such a profound abuse of human rights.

Mr Sibenaler urged the people to address the stigma of FGM as an unquestioned cultural and social process, the stigma felt by women who do not undergo ‘cutting’ and are judged negatively by their communities and the shame and stigma felt by those who have undergone the process, which may prevent many women from coming forward for help and support.

He said there is an increased likelihood of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders and depression and that the cultural significance of FGM might not protect against psychological complications in lives of the young girls.

“And addressing the psychological impact of FGM can expedite the process of eradicating FGM and also deal with the difficulties that survivors currently face,” said Mr Sibenaler.
Why does FGM persist?

Although FGM has been shown to have many harmful effects, both physical and emotional, the practice is sustained by social perceptions, including that girls will face shame, social exclusion and diminished marriage prospects, if they forego the practice. These perceptions must change.

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