Alternative Rite of Passage to End Female Genital Mutilation among Sabiny in Uganda

ikirimat
Posted February 16, 2021 from Uganda

In a high-level panel discussion that brought together stakeholders to commemorate the Zero Tolerance on Female Genital Mutilation in Uganda was held on 10th February 2021at Imperial Royale Hotel in Kampala. the theme was ‘No Time for Global Inaction: Unite, Fund and Act to End Female Genital Mutilation’. It was argued that the Alternative Rite of Passage is a viable option to FGM as proposed by the Sabiny elders. Madam Jessica Kusuro (member of the Sabiny cultural association) argues that, FGM is rooted in the strong cultural norms and attitudes and should change. The Sabiny social structure is such that power and authority belongs to the men. "The elders know that power and authority rests in men, so there is need for the men to get out of the norm of asserting authority on the culture because factors that originally used to drive FGM are not anymore". New driving factors now exist (economic). The FGM analysis study report was conducted in 7 FGM practicing districts in Uganda reveals astounding statistics. Some progress has been in reducing the FGM prevalence from 1.4% in 2006 to 0.3% in 2016. However, age at circumcision varied but was lowest in Karamoja 14.5 years) and in Kween was 19 years and Bukwo and Kapchorwa is 17 Years. It is evident that mothers (35%) had the strongest influence on the girls to undergo FGM. On the other hand high prevalence rates are accompanied by high awareness rates. Meaning that, being aware of dangers of FGM does not help these women decide not to go through circumcision. Also support for FGM abandonment is stronger in presence of perceived gains in terms of education and increased government investments in the region. Regarding opinions on FGM in eastern Uganda, 72% would encourage relatives /community members against cutting. This varied from 90.5% in Amudat, 89% in Kween, Nakapiripirit 71.9%, Kapchorwa 71% and 58% in Moroto. It is interesting to note that previous approaches to tackling FGM have been criticized since they came with negative attitudes and demonized the Sabiny culture as ‘bad and wrong’ and yet this is a culture they have grown in and groomed into. There is need to change the approach and attitudes. It is important to help the Sabiny appreciate that their culture and this needs to meet the changing and evolving demands of the society counts. The use of the existing resources within the communities (elders, surgeons, mothers etc) to sensitize them and promote dialogue is critical and sustainable; other than having ‘outsiders’ coming into their communities to criticize their culture. The Sabiny Alternative Rites of Passage will therefore focus on building social skills i.e. confidence building and assertiveness among girls and women and not demonise the Sabiny culture. It was noted that bringing the mentorship that was done traditionally; improving and blending it with what is relevant today is key. Madam Jessica argued that the young Sabiny ought to also learn the history and culture of the Sabiny so that the question of identity is not on ‘cutting’ but on what they are as a people regarding skills and ideology. This will build patriotism too. It was highlighted that new drivers for FGM are emerging in the society especially economic livelihoods and this needs to be tackled. Much as Uganda is confident in its existing policy and legal framework on FGM elimination; implementation remains a challenge especially regional cross border FGM that is happening across the porous borders of Kenya and Uganda, These existing regional initiatives and policy/legal frameworks developed need to be integrated into the country programming and resourcing. This will help adduce evidence on our progress in terms of implementation of the legal frameworks on FGM vis avi the reality because the cultural leaders and communities being engaged don’t seem to appreciate the execution of the existing FGM Act but will insist on the culture. Therefore, having more strategic initiatives at the border points in order to move forward remains a priority.

Comments 8

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Jill Langhus
Feb 17
Feb 17

Hi Grace,

How are you doing? Thanks for spreading more awareness about FGM and providing an update, too, about the current state of this practice there. I totally agree that it will never work to criticize a group of people for what they're doing in hoping that it will end a harmful practice. I love this billboard, by the way. It sounds like some progress is being made.

I hope you're well, and that you have a great, rest of your week, dear.

Ana Lozano
Feb 17
Feb 17

Thank you, Grace, for sharing such an illuminating piece. You are so right: when a practice (however damaging) is deeply "rooted in strong cultural norms and attitudes", no policy and no law will ever be enough to tackle the issue and to get to see the expected outcomes. If the issue is cultural, then the solution is cultural albeit it being a long-term quest. This is not to say that policies and laws can help, but it's not that simple. It works similarly when we talk about awareness-raising campaigns. They help of course, but acknowledging that "being aware of dangers of FGM does not help these women decide not to go through circumcision" is key. It reminds me of anti-tobacco campaigns. Smokers, by now, know of the dangers and consequences of smoking; but it's far more complex than just knowing the data and the facts. They're never enough on their own.
Something that resonated with me is when you mentioned that the problem must be addressed internally by using existing resources within communities rather than having ‘outsiders’ coming into their communities to criticize their culture. This is absolutely crucial for the international community and the development sector to understands because it is often forgotten that solutions most often come from within and that when support is needed, then support must be given exactly how each community requires it.
I love the ideas that you have shared to address the cultural context in Uganda. They're brilliant. I'm very curious about the new economic factors driving FGM as a practice. I'd love to learn more about that.
Again, thank you for sharing such a thoughtful and thorough piece.

Hello, Grace,

It's great to know that there are stakeholders in Uganda that are actively pushing for zero tolerance for FGM. It's challenging to go against "strong cultural norms". I saw that in the movie Desert Flower, a woman refusing to undergo FGM was shamed because it's rebelling against their culture.

It's a positive step forward that there are policies in place in your government already, the challenge is truly in the implementation. We stand with you in ending FGM. Please update us with the development of your country. Thank you for sharing!

Beth Lacey
Feb 18
Feb 18

Thank you for this. So much work needed around the world to eliminate this torture.

Tamarack Verrall
Feb 20
Feb 20

Daer Ikirimat,
This work that has been done together to find the right approach, respectful of traditions that are important, is such a move forward. Such a lot of very careful thought has gone into the best ways forward. The life affirming, beautiful cultures and traditions are older than any that involve violence. Knowing that change is being created without losing old and beautiful traditions, is such good news. All the best with this ongoing coalition of women working on this in many places now.

Stacie Dickson
Feb 22
Feb 22

Thank you for spreading awareness to this issue . The world needs more people like you !

rebecca.tang
Feb 23
Feb 23

Thank you for sharing. I am glad to hear that there is making a lot of progress on FGM. However, there is still needs to prohibit this happens completely in all countries.
May Almighty God bless all the women and girls!

Anum Shakeel
Feb 25
Feb 25

Hi Sister Grace, More power to you, May Almighty God bless all the women and girls across the world!