Elephant steps to womanhood! The paradox of FGM/C
By Harriet Robinah Gimbo, Director Programs of ActionAid Uganda
Speaking to the migrants and different stakeholders in Spain reminded me of the troubles women go through to graduate to woman hood. For two weeks was the tune of female genital cutting the culturally entrenched and cherished practice, surrounded with control, power, pseudo sense of belonging to the women’s class and criteria to fully belong to society and community at large. The tales of the two women from Kween and Kapchorwa twinned up with the feeling of disgust, indignity, agony, resentment, and outcry for recognition of humanity and the transition to womanhood out of a selfish practice of FGM/C. It was not any different for women from Senegal, Liberia, Guinea Bisau, Benin, Mali, Kenya, Tanzania and Sierra Leone. Everyone worried about how long the narrative around women and multiple injustices will ever end!
Coming from an innocent culture it sounded like fitting a square peg in a round hole. This can never be a wish for any girl or women in the world! One woman said with tears in her eyes rekindling the three most painful moments after FGM/C at the point of cutting, wedding night and when giving birth she added it is a nightmare. Another added "I now understood why my mother and grandmother slept alone many times: they couldn't hold the pain of coniugal rights". She continued to cite fistula, stigma, discrimination, denial of property and self-blame, pity that covered the sentiments of most interactions with women. It is this fear that prompted AA Italy, Spain and Sweden to initiate this initiative to prevent further occurrence of this practice in the migrant communities of Europe and eventual spread in their counties.
It is time to redeem girls and women's dignity by confronting the different forms of power that underlie such and other related harmful traditional practices. Strongly hidden power holds the seemingly good intent promised around this practice that deprives women of their joy all their life. As we transit into the implementation of new strategies, we need to invest significant time, resources and building of alternative models on how to overcome injustices that come with visible, hidden, invisible and assumed power to transform the position of girls and women and eventually the community. Women's economic empowerment, peer support, collective action and understanding contexts and cultures will be key for community transformation.
Together we can make a difference to ending impunity on all forms of violence against girls and women.
Interview to Kuka Jane Frances, Resident District Commissioner in Uganda, she campaigned against FGM in the 1990s and she has been Minister of Gender.
How would you compare gender equality in Uganda and Spain? I feel women in Uganda have a lot of opportunities not yet fully utilised, one I can cite is support for each other and collective action. It was also evident that women need to be empowered economically to resist most of the injustices they face. Both government and other Development players need to take gender equality and most importantly women rights and an important entry point to development.
What did you like about the partnership with academic institutions? I was impressed to see different doctors, professors and students attend with curiosity to learn, commitment and interest. They were simple, easy to interact with and shared their perspectives too. Students need practical experiences to have practical solutions to the development puzzle when they get out of University. This is good learning for our government and academic institutions in Uganda.
What were your difficult moments in Spain? Speaking Spanish and getting the things I needed when I had no translator. I wish I knew the language or the Spanish women knew English we would have shared more intimately one on one on this issue of FGM/C.
What will you do differently in your community and job role? I will mobilize more women and girls to campaign against FGM/C and move to schools to speak to young girls to reject the cutting. I will also ensure I mobilize men and boys to join the campaign as well as debates on the effects of this vice between men and women for appreciation of the need to end FGM/C. We will as leaders of the district encourage more investment into girl child's education and women's economic empowerment.
Your final word! Grateful for the opportunity to share my experience and pick learning that will improve my role as Resident District Commissioner, an activist against FGM and overly as a citizen of Uganda. I am confident we together can end FGM/C, other harmful traditional practices and injustice against women and girls in Uganda.
Interview to Chebet Juliet Carolyn, Community Development Officer in Uganda, good role model, she has mobilized numerous government programs in her country.
What was your experience speaking to Spain immigrants and others stakeholders on FGM/C? It was a good experience learning different cultures and how social workers in different communities perform their responsibilities. I was motivated and encouraged to meet the different stakeholders and institutions. I also got the experience that the gap between the immigrants and Spanish citizens was wide and were not in touch with reality. For example the immigrants escape and return home to circumcise and return to Spain. I was however encouraged that social workers were willing and committed to get the immigrants to understand the risks connected to FGM/C practice.
What will you do differently in your community? I would very much encourage dialogue with the FGM/C cutters and elders to combat the practice. I also foresee my role in working with the lower local governments that the school going children especially girls are kept in schools between the ages of 9-16 yrs and campaign for girl child education. I will also lobby during the planning and budgeting processes for an increase of the resources allocated to children and women related activities. I also feel that the government should budget and prioritize the commemoration of the day against FGM/C as an opportunity and space to decampaign the practice.
Final word! I would like to thank ActionAid Uganda for giving me the opportunity of this tour, it has been a learning experience and has motivated me to identify gaps and insights to do things differently in our FGM campaign in the community. I am optimistic that the methodology of the campaign is going to transform the targeted congregation. I will lobby and advocate for stronger and improved partnerships with civil society organizations and other development partners for a more holistic approach to the prevention and response to FGM/C.