BUKWO – Kokop Firosi Chemusto, 80 now, remembers how her childhood came to an abrupt end at the age of 25 in 1966.
Although she remembers that she lost blood, in 1970 she also started circumcising girls and women in her native Cheburubei village in Chekwasit in Amanang sub-county in Bukwo district until 2010.
“I remember everything well: the smells. I see young girls crying while I am holding the knife, I see my dirty hands,” she says of the traumatic images and unbearable pain she inflicted to both girls and women.
She said she started circumcising after she learnt that many surgeons were getting money from circumcising besides goats and chicken including Komek [local brew].
“Nobody taught me, I had not gone to school and had nothing to do for a living and I saw this as an opportunity for me to earn a living, so I joined. I circumcised both Ugandans and Kenyans-the Kikuyu but above all I was a good mentor,” said Ms Chemusto.
She revealed that she would circumcise with no anaesthetic, no drugs and that it was so painful that young girls cried so hard.
But today Chemusto is a born-again Christian who has abandoned circumcising since 2010 and has joined other women to fight against FGM in the community and describes what she was doing as inhumane.
And with other women, their mission now is fraught with difficulty because they are challenging long-held and respected cultural tradition and religious belief, as well as highlighting the pain and medical risks FGM can cause.
She revealed that for a long, she was not able to talk about what she and girls/women experienced during Genital mutilation for it is a taboo topic in Sebei villages.
Banned in Uganda since 2010 FGM/C is in fact still practiced in some tribes in Uganda and in rural areas like Sebei, Moroto [Tepeth] and Amudat, a girl who is not circumcised is still considered to be unclean. The social pressure on young girls is enormous.
Break the silence
The only detail thing Ms Chemusto tells this Reporter is that FGM is a traumatizing Act, non-biblical that must be stopped to give girls/women respect and dignity they deserve.
Although other women who have undergone FGM in their childhood stay silent, Chemusto has decided go public after she declared Jesus as her personal savior.
She said that she would tell the girls after circumcision that they were women then, and somehow some of them felt a sense of pride without fully understanding what that meant.
Chemusto is just one among the many FGM surgeons in rural Sebei region who are sinking in poverty even when they have been earning from circumcising girls across the Kapchorwa, Kween and Bukwo districts.
More typically, however, the FGM surgeons many of whom are dropping the practice, describe a similar situation of poverty and no source of income
Challenging beliefs and misconceptions
The Sabiny [those hailing from Sebei] community where Ms Chemusto comes from are known for this rich culture but behind is the ugly practice of FGM that is performed by the community.
Statistics from the Sebei sub-region suggest that only 24% of girls/women aged 10 to 45 have experienced some form of genital mutilation – while 66% of women between 25 and 35 have undergone gender Based Violence.
She explained that among the Sabiny, FGM is directly linked to marriageability and is typically carried out on young girls below the age of 15 to make them eligible brides.
According to Ms Beatrice Chelangat, the director-general of Reproductive Education and Community Health [REACH] programme, an NGO involved in the fight against FGM, the cut causes serious medical complications, such as extreme pain, excessive bleeding, infections, maternal and newborn complications, and sometimes death.
REACH is implementing a project to undertake awareness creation on dangers of FGM and GBV on Kapchorwa-Suam road project area funded by African Development Bank through UNRA.
Ms Chelangat says her target under the new project is not only geared towards empowering the ordinary Sabiny girls and women to discard FGM but to also enable them engage with public policy to ensure that their needs are catered for, their rights are catered for and to end the suffering, humiliation, physical and mental abuse of the women and girl-child.
She revealed that they will do what everything possible to ensure that many more surgeons are fished out in the villages to end the practice of FGM.
She adds that FGM/C is transnational public health, human rights, and gender injustice issue, which more than 125 million girls and women in 29 countries of Africa and the Middle East have been subjected to.
“As REACH programme we feel there is need for a change in our approach to the prevention of this practice that can have a devastating impact not only on girls and women but can adversely affect men and communities as well,” added Ms Chelangat.
She explained that all women and girls have the right to the highest attainable standard of health and that those who are subjected to FGM have this fundamental right denied them, along with the range of other human rights that FGM violates.
A woman has no say in the matter’
Chemusto’s journey into her past inevitably took her back home to Chekwasit and she tried to bring up the issue with her village mates who have also joined her in the fight to prevent the girls/women from undergoing the procedure.
“I did nt know that what I was doing was bad until REACH programme sensitised me and government passed a law against FGM. And in our culture a woman had nothing to say. The man took care of everything. I want to say I regret that,” said Ms Chemusto.
Ms Chemusto has also approached her former colleagues, other women who are mutilating girls and women calling upon them to stop FGM and engage in other income-generating activities.
She says although some have blocked the memories and tried to live their lives fully despite the violent procedure, others have also opted to abandon the practice opted for clitoral reconstruction.
Dr Yeko Arapkisa John, the reproductive health specialist at the REACH programme says that many women suffer for years after being circumcised because of scarring and frequent infections.
He revealed that chances are high that girls/women who undergo FGM are likely to suffer gynecological, sexual and obstetric complications and that the results weigh against the continuation of FGM/C.
He revealed that when girls are cut, they face the immediate risk of haemorrhage, shock, serious injury, a range of infections – and even death when haemorrhage or infection are especially severe.
Dr. Arapkisa who is a surgeon under the new project will perform “reversal surgery” on FGM victims to repair the vagina and clitoris so that these women can have more normal lives and so they need diagnosis and management to keep them safe from the physical risks of FGM/C.
“The scar tissue that forms around the clitoris and encases is uncomfortable we are going to repair this and where possible we shall still refer these to other hospitals for repair at a free cost,” said Dr Arapkisa adding that the harm FGM causes to girls’ and women’s health is manifold.