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Health

The pain after FGM, a woman’s experience

A traditional surgeon with her knife ready to circumcise. (Photo: David Mafabi)

KAPCHORWA – “Losing a child at birth is the most painful thing that has ever happened to me in my life. I don’t know why but I lost the baby just like that haven gone through pregnancy excruciation pains,” says Ms Vicky Chemutai C, 30.

Ms Chemutai, from Kween in Tukum village, Binyiny sub-county, says although she is married, sex has never enticed her because of the nightmares of sexual pains she has to endure each night.

“When the sun goes down my panic begins. Sometimes I will find myself engaging my children in unnecessary conversations just to keep us awake-just to keep away from marital affair with my husband, the pain is just totally unbearable,” Ms Chemutai a mother of six children adds.

Chemutai won’t disclose this pain to her husband for fears of losing him. “And because of stigma and vilification I am compelled to suffer in silence,” she said.

Her troubles started in 2006 when she got married as an uncircumcised girl at the 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 and they kept telling me until I get circumcised, I would never be allowed in any of their meetings,” said Chemutai.

She explained that under this pressure, she decided to give in to FGM and she was asked to go back to her parents in Binyiny to get circumcised, something that has changed her whole life.

Vicky Chemutai C, 30 shares her insights on FGM’s pain and untold consequence (Photo: David Mafabi)

Chemutai explains that like other girls who have taken circumcision, the trauma doesn’t stop when you are held down by your mother or your sister or your auntie or your grandmother while some lady comes towards you with a rusty knife or whatever tool she may use to cut off what she considers to be useless and dirty.

Ms Chemutai says that one day she 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 told me it was a wound was from the FGM which never healed and she blamed it on the local circumciser [surgeon] who performed it on her poorly,” said Ms Chemutai.

Today, Chemutai like many other women and girls who have undergone FGM/C, lives with a painful testimony of a dangerous cultural practice.

Dr Michael Muwanga, the Kapchorwa District Director of Health Services says Chemutai is not alone but among the many girls and women who have undergone FGM and live in pain and silence without the desire for sex with their partners.

“And when they get pregnant, there are complications because they have undergone FGM and because many of them fear exposing their mutilated genitals, they are forced to deliver at the TBAs, escalating maternal mortality rates in the region,” said Dr Muwanga.

Ms Beatrice Chelangat, the director general of the Reproductive, Educative and Community Health (REACH) project, a Kapchorwa-based non-governmental organisation working to eradicate female genital mutilation (FGM) in Sebei sub-region and Karamoja describes FGM as an ugly act that violates the rights of girls.

“This act has no known benefit but immediate and long term consequences and it is unfortunate that some girls still ask to be circumcised,” said Ms Beatrice Chelangat, an extraordinary advocate devoted to empowering girls and eliminating FGM in Uganda.

She says Ms Chelangat is not alone, there are many circumcised women who are going through the same in Sebei region [Kapchorwa, Kween and Bukwo] and Karamoja sub-region and that many of them have serious implications for the sexual and reproductive health for girls and women.

She adds that the immediate complications include severe pain, shock, haemorrhage, tetanus or infection, urine retention, ulceration of the genital region and injury to adjacent tissue, wound infection, urinary infection, fever, and septicemia. Haemorrhage and infection can be severe enough to cause death.

“And the long-term consequences include complications during childbirth, anaemia, the formation of cysts and abscesses, keloid scar formation, damage to the urethra resulting in urinary incontinence, dyspareunia (painful sexual intercourse), sexual dysfunction, hypersensitivity of the genital area and increased risk of HIV transmission as well as psychological effects,” said Ms Chelangat

Arch Bishop 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, silence has. hasn’t done anything for the little girls who have been put through this horrible practice – 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,” said Arch Bishop Ntagali.

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

Mr Sibenaler asked 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, 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 explained that FGM endangers women and girls’ health, depriving them of their fundamental human rights, and denying them the chance to reach their full potential and live their dreams.

UNFPA, UNICEF and Church of Uganda jointly lead the national programme to accelerate the abandonment of FGM-the joint Programme harnesses the complementary expertise of the three agencies, with government and often in close collaboration with grass-roots community organizations and other key stakeholders, backed by the latest social science research.

Teenage girls from queue up in preparation to face the ‘knife’ in Sebei sub-region, Eastern Uganda (FILE PHOTO)

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. Ends

Research

A 2015 Baseline Study on FGM found that 91% of the population now does not support FGM. In Uganda, the practice is locally known as “wonsetap koruk” and is practiced in Northeastern Uganda among the Sabiny in Kapchorwa, Kween, Bukwo, and among the Tepeth, Pokot and Kadam communities in Karamoja region

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