IT is now 14 years since the UN set aside 6th February as Zero day of tolerance against FGM. The aim was and still is, to sensitise communities by holding campaigns to take action against FGM.
FGM is acronym for female genital mutilation (FGM), whereby women go through a cultural process of alterations in their genitalia chiefly for traditional or religious beliefs. Looked at from any angle, FGM is a human rights abrogation and deserves to be condemned in the strongest terms.
Annually, more than 200 million women and girls from Africa, Asia and the Middle East undergo FGM practice. Tanzania sadly, is among 29 countries which practise FGM, with a prevalence rate of 15 per cent. It is further estimated that 3.5 million women and girls in Tanzania have undergone FGM.
In some parts of Tanzania, this negative practice, which is as old as history itself, has left indelible marks psychologically, biologically and mentally on those who went through the rituals, better known as the rite of passage from childhood to adulthood. Their experience, brings chills down one’s bone marrow. And why ?
Because to earn honour and be respected within their communities, they must go through this harrowing experience. Before it is done, parents, relatives and those performing the rituals are apprehensive.
They expect the process to go as planned with minimum hitches. Nobody talks or considers impending risks that are normally associated with the rituals and nobody has ready- made solutions as to what could be done in case something goes wrong. That is considered a normal mishap part of the process.
Being cut by an unsterilised sharp instrument without, anesthesia, is to say the least very crude and risky. Actually the stakes are high as most victims due to excessive bleeding, pass out for hours with those responsible waiting in awe, not knowing what to do, should the obvious happen.
Once the victim bounces back to life, women sing, dance, ululate, an indication that all is well for celebrations to proceed as planned in the family and the whole community. While celebrations are on, the victim is probably still bleeding and nursing a wound which will remain for the rest of her life, a constant and permanent reminder of what she went through.
These are the heroines who we need to support, to engage so that their stories can be blown and shared far and wide, to inspire the powers that be, to take action against FGM with its hideous, horrendous and inhumane character.
If like me you do not belong to the tribe that subscribes to this kind of ritual, I am sure you are asking what is there to celebrate about? And what is in it for those who go through FGM. Clearly, it defies imagination! I remember reading a book those good old days, which had an anecdote saying, there is pleasure sure in being mad, which only mad men know.
Could this also be true for those who believe in FGM? a few who have lived to tell the story will convince you to hate and curse those who create, execute and celebrate such brutal schemes which subject young girls and women into FGM.
Indeed bad habits die hard! Zero tolerance is observed every year around the globe and TAMWA conducted outreach in Singida in 2015, with the aim of gauging successes recorded and challenges encountered, since the last outreach in 2014.
TAMWA planned to measure the impact of work done by stakeholders whom it had asked to take stock of activities they had promised to pursue for the whole year to bring down the prevalence of FGM in their regions.
TAMWA believes in measuring impact of what it promises to do, against what it is capable of doing according to plans and targets using media as advocacy and mobilisation tool. In Tanzania, FGM is practised in five regions namely, MARA, which accounts for about 32 per cent, Manyara 58 per cent, Dodoma 47 per cent, Arusha 41 per cent and Singida 31 per cent.
It is also important to note that FGM is a precursor to child marriage, a practice which has adverse health and socio-economic effects on girls and women. About eighty stakeholders, from the above regions attended a sensitisation workshop, ranging from gender desk police, doctors, ng’aribas (those who actually do the cut) government leaders, lawyers, community leaders, civil society, young victims who have gone through FGM and a very vibrant media.
Did we hear anything new ? Of course. We shared good practices, new ideas and new experiences. For example, some had started school clubs, in which experts of heath take turns to educate the young about the negative effects of FGM.
They also set aside time to listen to their views. Others were engaging old people to ask them why FGM was still rampant and whether it had any value in modern times. But we also received shocking news of FGM being performed on babies.
This was because the government was seen to be taking stern measures against those who defied the law. FGM is illegal in Tanzania and although it has signed and/or ratified a number of major international instruments which promote gender parity and equality, it has yet to domesticate them.
That aside, those who have been assigned the roles to monitor and follow up the implementation are the very ones who believe in FGM and would, therefore, rejoice to see the end of this problem.
To them FGM is status, identity and even a source of income and celebration. Consequently, practices such as FGM continue with impunity. It was a blessing, therefore, for the Singida workshop to have Deputy Minister of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elders and Children, Dr Hamisi Kigwangala, who is a medical doctor by profession as guest of honour.
He gave a very inspirational speech by asking communities who practise FGM to do away with those draconian beliefs, good for nothing traditions which cause more harm to women and girls and rob their rights and dignity.
He also challenged those who are custodians of law and order to do their work professionally, diligently and judiciously so that perpetrators are dealt with according to the law of the land.
Dr Kigwangala threw his arms open to all groups working towards eradication of violence against women and girls and declared himself good will ambassador of fighting violence against women. The meeting in Singida ended on a positive note, with inspirational stories of girls running away from their homes to safe houses at Masanga during the FGM season.
TAMWA in collaboration with other networks of like- minded civil society groups has done a lot of advocacy work around harmful effects of FGM. TAMWA is happy to see courageous girls ready to tell their parents and care takers that they will no longer tolerate outdated traditions which rob their rights and dignity.
There is evidence of change among girls and young women in some communities, although the rate is slow.
We could safely say, this practice affects more than 8 million women and girls in Tanzania. This is a lot and all of us should participate in this crusade, to make sure FGM is thrown in the dustbin of history. How do we do that?
By educating those who still practice, on the negative effects of health and socio-economic dynamics, by lobbying the powers that be to be more vigilant in taking culprits to book, by enhancing protection services to young ones who run to safe houses and making sure those houses have enough strategic and practical needs for the influx of young girls and women who seek temporary asylum during FGM season.
It is not enough to provide temporary asylum to FGM victims, but to make sure those girls are reunited with their families so that they continue with schooling thereafter. UN Sustainable development goals 3, 4, and 5 need to be adhered to in relation to building capacity of health providers so that those living in areas where FGM is practised, can access and enjoy quality services. All said and done, ‘zero tolerance of FGM’ is here to remind us that all Tanzanian girls have the right to strive for high ideals.
They have the right to claim their dignity without having to go through FGM. Member states of UN, UNFPA, UNICEF, WHO, civil organisations, faith based organisations, government, private sector, teachers, parents, care takers and everybody, must heed the call to work together to look for short and long term solutions to FGM. In the meantime, let us raise loud and persistent voices of protest against FGM
- Edda Sanga is the Director of Tanzania Media Women’s Association (TAMWA).