BUKWO – Clutching a Bible in one hand and Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act, 2010, in the other, Pastor Christopher Chemongei traverses the plains of Riwo and Ngenge sub-counties, fighting female circumcision and propounding on the Christian gospel.
The region is the homeland of the Sabiny, an indigenous community in Uganda that practices FGM.
The [Sabiny] Sebei community [Kapchorwa, Kween and Bukwo districts] has resisted modernity and other influences and clings to a traditional way of life, including the practice of female genital mutilation, or FGM.
On January 18, during the 22nd Sabiny Culture Day celebrations, the government of Uganda/ UNFPA sponsored FGM awareness day, Pastor Chemongei was at Torasis Church in Bukwo with others pastors to attend the Bukwo Union of Pentecostal Churches, a foundation body of over 105 churches to declare joint efforts to end FGM.
Every year, members of the Sabiny community living in the districts of Kapchorwa, Bukwo and Kween commemorate a cultural day. Supported by UNFPA, the day aims to promote positive Sabiny culture through music, dance and drama while discouraging FGM/C.
The day also recognises FGM/C is a violent practice, scarring girls and women for life, endangering their health, depriving them of their fundamental human rights, and denying them the chance to reach their full potential and leave their dreams, is a forms of gender inequality and harmful practice that leads to child, early and forced marriages.
A clergyman from the Perfection Church Ministries, Mr Chemongei often leads pastors to secret locations where FGM takes place.
“We go there to tell them to abandon FGM, to teach them about Christ and to show them that their girls can have a future without FGM and that the girls should remain focused on their dreams,” said the 57-year-old pastor in an interview with PML Daily in Torasis, the village where his church is based.
He explained that in a painful surgery, women circumcisers [surgeons] use knives, razor blades or scissors to remove the labia and/or the clitoris as part of a rite of passage to womanhood for young girls.
Although the government of Uganda banned FGM in 2010, enacting a law [Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act 2010], that criminalizes the voluntary pursuit, support or promotion of FGM, but with increased surveillance by police, the practice has gone underground, according to Mr Chemongei.
He revealed that although the FGM is supposed to take place in December of every even year, in 2018, the perpetrators of FGM held the practice in November and that they continued holding in January of this year in bid to evade the law.
The practice is carried out by both Muslim and Christian communities, although it predates both religions and is not sanctioned by the Quran or the Bible.
In Uganda, according to the most recent Demographic Health Survey (DHS), the estimated prevalence of FGM in girls and women (aged 15-49 years) is 1.4% (DHS, 2011). In comparison to many of the other countries in Africa in which FGM is practised, Uganda has a very low rate.
The World Health Organization estimates that more than 200 million women and girls worldwide are FGM survivors.
Mr Chemongei says that what was supposed to be these women’s dignity has all but been ruthlessly eroded and that the sight of these women/girls undergoing FGM is distressing.
At Torasis Church Pastors in Bukwo spoke with one voice, strongly condemning Female Genital Mutilation with a pledge to accelerate action and ensure the practice is eliminated in Uganda.
“We must engage in prayer and fasting to defeat the spiritual world because FGM is spiritual, Satanic, demonic, evil, let us all pray, let us all fast, let us all join the fight against FGM to save our girls in the region,” said Mr Chemongei.
With his bible raised high, Mr Chemongei says God expects us to preserve life and Health as given in the book of Genesis 1: 31; Psalms 139:13 and 14.
“The Bible presents the goodness of God’s creation, including the creation of human beings (Gen 1:31; Ps 139:13, 14). God is the Source and Sustainer of human life (Job 33:4; Ps 36:9; John 1:3, 4; Acts 17:25, 28). God calls for the preservation of human life and holds humanity accountable for its destruction (Gen 9:5, 6,” says Mr Chemongei.
Mr Chemongei explained that in Exodus 20:13; Deut 24:16; Jer 7:3-34) God says the Human body is “the temple of the Holy Spirit,” and that followers of God are urged to care for and preserve their bodies, including the Creator’s gift of sexuality, as a spiritual responsibility (1 Cor 6:15-19).
“And because female genital mutilation is harmful to health, threatening to life, and injurious to sexual function, it is incompatible with the will of God,” he added.
The meeting attended by 91 pastors who signed a declaration to end FGM agreed that the practice of FGM should be renounced because it threatens the Creator’s design for the experience of joyful sexuality by married couples.
Ms Juliet Chemitai of Kapkuwing deliverance Church leading other congregating pastors under Bukwo Union of Pentecostal churches said they are united against FGM, a practice they say is “against God’s order of creation.”
With backing of the law and biblical teachings, churches, alongside some government efforts, have mounted massive campaigns against the practice, establishing rescue centres for fleeing girls who are often rejected by their families for disobeying the elders.
Ms Vicky Chemutai, a teacher at Cheminy primary school, told of her experience, having fled FGM as a young girl to a rescue centre five years ago.
“Elders felt that it was the right time to perform the cut on me and when they tried to force me, I fled my home, and finally ended up at a rescue centre, where I completed my secondary school and joined teaching.”
Chemutai, like many girls, was rejected by her father for disobeying her family’s wish but today the father loves her more than ever.
She stresses that FGM should be eliminated since it does not add any value to a women’s life, contrary to the view held by many in her community.
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
Ms Chelangat who occasionally sponsors pastors to preach against FGM says She says there are many circumcised women who are going through a lot of sufferance in Sebei [Kapchorwa, Kween and Bukwo districts] and Karamoja sub-region and that many of them have serious implications for the sexual and reproductive health for girls and women.
She explained 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.