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Stigmatisation forcing women into accepting to undergo Female Genital Mutilation

Elders abandon the local potent gin [Komeet] after an uncircumcised woman pours water into it. (Photo by David Mafabi)

KAPCHORWA – Loud Umukomboti music by South Africa’s songbird Yvonne Chakachaka ushers elders into the courtyard of Mr Fenakasi Kipsiro, also an elder, whose home has turned into a stage.

The setting is ingrained such that this joint looks like the traditional design; papyrus reeds, traditional chairs and tubes for sucking the local potent gin [Komeek].

The outskirts are dotted with pots, stained with the drink and Ms Chelimo, Mr Kipsiro’s wife is seen in the background boiling some water to pour into the traditional pot that has the popular Komeek.

As the elders settle down to take Komeek, Ms Chelimo emerges from the kitchen carrying a saucepan with hot water and pours it into Komeek, the elders look at the woman inquisitively and suddenly they all shout,

“She is not circumcised, we can’t take this Komeek now, it is spoilt, no we can’t take it, Mr Kipsiro, take your Komeek,” said the elders before abandoning the Komeek and walking away with their chairs and tubes.

“You ought to have undergone the cut to become a full woman such that you can qualify to serve food [to elders], put water in Komeek and talk to the elders in a meeting,” yelled the elders as they walked away cursing Mr Kipsiro for allowing an uncircumcised woman to pour water in their Komeek.

The elders giggled in mockery of Ms Chelimo as they walked away in protest.

At the disappearance of the elders, Mr Kipsiro blames his wife [Ms Chelimo] for making elders- his colleagues [Bondet] to abandon the Komeek he had brewed them.

“I have always told you to get circumcised to save me from this shame but you have been adamant, next time the elders will abandon us at a time we need them most, accept and take circumcision or I divorce you,” said Mr Kipsiro.

Ms Chelimo fell down at the mention of divorce and started crying, something that attracted other elders in the neighbourhood and when they sought an explanation from Mr Kipsiro, he said “My woman is not circumcised and when you are not circumcised, the elders will abuse you and curse you.”

“There will be no respect for your woman, she will not be allowed to smear a house, not allowed to get food from a granary, not allowed to serve elders, she will be abused and shunned by your mother-in-law,” added Mr Kipsiro before the neighbours shouted she must get circumcised.

Ms Chelimo knelt down and asked them to forgive her but they insisted that she undergoes FGM as part of their culture that makes them distinct from other tribes, initiates girls into womanhood, and shapes the morality of women during marriage.

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

This is a scene in the play entitled ‘ Stigmatisation forcing married women into FGM’ by St Peters Youth Troupe drama, that emphasises an end to end FGM, restoration of dignity of girl-child, rekindling their hopes being staged in the communities to sensitise people about the dangers of FGM.

Mr Owor Osinde, the Commissioner for Community Development in the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development says that the women are under pressure from their husbands, mothers-in-law — and society — to undergo the procedure as the tribal culture dictates.

“Members of the community say an uncircumcised woman is unfit to be married, is undeserving of respect and should be shunned, this is wrong and must end to give women the dignity they deserve,” said Mr Owor who worked in Sebei sub-region for over 10 years.

The play was part of the programmes that marked the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM in 2019 at Kwosir secondary school on 6 February a United Nations-sponsored annual awareness day as part of the UN’s efforts to eradicate FGM.

Ms Beatrice Chelangat, the director General of The Reproductive, Educative and Community Health (REACH) programme, an NGO working to eradicate FGM says many women tell out harrowing, detailed account of their FGM experiences how they are forced by husbands and bound by culture.

“I will not just sit and look at this injustices go on. I will reach out to every homestead in Sebei to end FGM and ensure women get the dignity they deserve,” Ms Chelangat says.

She said FGM is an integral part of the societies that practice it, where patriarchal authority and control of female sexuality and fertility are givens and that in Sebei sub-region where a person’s place in society is determined by lineage traced through fathers, female circumcision reduces the uncertainty surrounding paternity by discouraging or preventing women’s sexual activity outside of marriage.

Elders get up to walk away from Komeet after Ms Chelimo [in gomesi crying]poured their water. (Photo by David Mafabi)

She explained that although the societies that practice circumcision vary in many ways, most girls receive little education and are valued primarily for their future role as sources of labour and producers of children.

Despite a 2010 law banning FGM nationally, four months from now, girl-child in Sebei sub-region will undergo FGM; the procedure remains highly prevalent especially in rural culturally bound areas where silence rules.

World Health Organisation says the consequences are appalling, along with an education and childhood cut short, girls suffer a traumatic initiation into sexual relationships, are put at risk of domestic violence and STI’s, and have the chance of a career or better life taken away.

Dr ArapKissa Yeko, a private medical practitioner in Kapchorwa municipality and former Member of Parliament for Kween says although efforts are underway to have FGM stopped, changing the life style of the people living in Kween, Kapchorwa and Bukwo districts at the slopes of Mt Elgon in order to end the practice is proving a headache to local leadership in the region.

Dr ArapKissa says FGM is often performed without anaesthetic under septic conditions by lay practitioners with little or no knowledge of human anatomy or medicine adding that FGM can cause death or permanent health problems as well as severe pain.

“But despite these grave risks, its practitioners look on it as an integral part of their cultural and ethnic identity, and some perceive it as a religious obligation,” said Dr ArapKissa.

Mr David Okello, the ActionAid Sebei cluster coordinator 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 Okello said although there is a law prohibiting FGM, the practice still persists among the Sabiny and Karimojong communities.

He urged the advocates to also use songs besides the drama to disseminate information about FGM, use schools, churches and burial ceremonies and cultural assemblies to speak against FGM in order to have a successful fight.

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