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Activists turn to drama to intensify fight against FGM

Gamatui secondary school girls act against FGM. (PHOTO BY DAVID MAFABI)

KAPCHORWA – A group of girls appear on the stage, now turned into a traditional courtyard for Female Genital Mutilation in Gamatui Girls Secondary School in Kapchorwa.

“This young girl has refused to get circumcised, pave way for her, and let the surgeon come, we shall force her because this is the way of our culture,” said the group as they forcefully carried the girl before the surgeon for FGM.

As the surgeon appears from the rare with her knife, the young girl fights back and tells them she won’t take FGM but they wrestle her on ground and as the surgeon bends to cut her, another young girl appears on the scene and restrains them.

“Why are you killing this young girl? Why do you want to circumcise her? FGM must stop now to restore dignity of girl-child; you will be arrested and imprisoned. This practice must end and we request you to join us in this fight,” said Ms Evelyn Cherotich, 16, putting on falsetto voice to imitate the old woman she is playing.

“We need respect as girls and women. FGM is outdated; it is a health risk, inhuman and an abuse of rights of every girl and woman. We must stop FGM,” she says.

The villagers, who were determined to circumcise the young girl, were dazed when she approached them with these words.

The girls in the audience giggle as Ms Cherotich who wears a blue head scarf, which she holds together under her chin with one hand with exaggerated gestures, tries to explain to the audience why the tradition of female circumcision is bad.

Everyone released the girl at once and stood still as they watched the young girl pronounce this.

Gamatui students act in a play End FGM now at Gamatui secondary school. NGO’s have now taken the FGM fight to schools. (PHOTO BY DAVID MAFABI)

Although they were surprised when they heard this from this girl, they stood still, listened to the girl, looked at the young girl, there was a feeling of a burden weighing so heavily upon them to speak back but an inner voice restrained them and at once they released the girl.

The misery this girl goes through typifies the misery faced by hundreds of young girls in Sebei sub-region where tradition does not give them an opportunity to speak their mind about FGM.

This is a scene in a play titled “We shall end FGM, restore dignity of girl-children, rekindle their hope”, being staged in schools and communities to sensitise people about the dangers of FGM.

Young girls are expected to undergo FGM before they can be regarded as women and perform other duties such as attending village meetings, serving food to newly-circumcised boys, smear houses, get food from the granaries and also be leaders or speak in public.

Anti-Female Genital Mutilation activists now use theatre and drama to enlighten the population to discard the practice that has persisted in Sebei sub-region despite the government ban.

The plays and songs emphasise that girls and women have rights and that it is up to them to decide the right cultures that can help girls get into adulthood.

It highlights the constitutional provisions like the duties of a citizen and women emancipation through education to discard the harmful FGM that is practiced in Kapchorwa, Kween, Bukwo and Amudat districts.

And local NGO Reproductive Education and Community Health [REACH], has initiated the participation of Sabiny irrespective of sex, educational background and age in a wide range of civic education programmes through face-to-face meetings at their homes, drama, and songs to end FGM.

The director general at REACH, Ms Beatrice Chelagat said although Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly says no one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, many of the Sabiny don’t know these rights.

“Sabiny force girls into FGM and our target now is to bring these rights down to these people in Kupsabiny, [Sabiny local language], teach them children’s rights and women emancipation,” she said.

Ms Chelangat said the purpose of drama is to fight the practice of FGM which is a human rights violation and a danger to the health of women and the girl child.

Funded by United Nations Population fund [UNFPA] in partnership with government of Uganda, REACH is an advocacy NGO against female circumcision.

Girls act in a play against FGM in Gamatui girls secondary school.(PHOTO BY DAVID MAFABI)

Chelangat explained that out of misfortune, many circumcised women have found a new calling; they have become local vocal advocates through songs and drama for eliminating FGM in this remote, mountainous area through the REACH programme

The students of Gamatui girls in the play are part of a growing network of women and men who are working for the complete elimination of this harmful practice, which leaves many suffering incontinence, excessive bleeding, urine retention, paralysis and even death during childbirth. The practice also exposes many women to HIV and other infections as well as psychological trauma.

Ms Chelangat revealed that during the drama women leaders also narrate personal experiences as victims of the practice.

Bukwo Elders Forum chairman Mr Stephen Anguria said the women must know their rights and cultures that usher them into adulthood without circumcision adding that the practice is most common among illiterate families.

Mr Anguria said although there is a law prohibiting FGM, the practice still persists among the Sabiny and Karimojong communities.

“Do you know that it now takes place in caves, bushes and across Kenya in a place called Kisawai in Trans-Nzoia where one old woman called Ms Eva Kyafuwa mutilates about 100 girls daily? We need massive sensitisation and education to end this,” said Mr Anguria.

The Kapchorwa Civil Society Organisations Alliance (KACSOA) has also initiated a range of activities including local drama to raise awareness against FGM.

Funded by PATH and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), KACSOA educates women on the negative effects of FGM in the communities and the dangers of FGM through music, dance and drama.

PATH is an international organisation that drives transformative innovation to save lives and improve health, especially among women and children.

“That’s why we are here. We want to use our performances to create an opportunity to talk about the difficult topic of FGM, beyond the confines of religion or medicine, in very practical terms,” said Mr David Mukhwana a project manager at KACSOA.

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