VICTORIA Marwa (23) is born in Mara region in a community where female circumcision practiced as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is part of the people’s culture.
Realising that she would be the next victim, she fled from her rural village while still a little girl after getting awareness on the harmful effects of the female genital mutilation performed in an individual.
While expressing dislike for the practice Victoria said: “The social pressure on young girls is enormous for a girl who is not circumcised and making her to be considered unclean. As a result of that, she may face rejection, condemnation and harassment from fellow community members as well as in school.”
The communities practicing it attach social, cultural, traditional or religious aspects and consider it a female cleanliness and cultural identity, which in critical look has no benefit to the victim.
They also consider it as the protection of one’s virginity, preparation for better marriage prospects, greater pleasure for the husband and improvement of fertility, but all these lack research based findings to back them.
While the customs and traditions that perpetuate FGM vary from community to community, the procedure is generally carried out sometimes between the infancy to 15 years of a girl child’s life, only to leave her with serious socio-economic, physical, emotional, sexual and health consequences, including deaths.
Despite bans against female genital mutilation, the practice still continues in some parts of the country primarily as a cultural rather than a religious practice, and may occur across different religious and ethnic groups.
“Family pressure to conform to traditional practice is another strong factor fuelling the FGM in the community,” she adds.
She further pointed out that, in Mara region in the community where she grew up, some tribes like Kurya still practice it as a cultural rite of passage into womanhood, in reality it is a gateway into forced child marriage, and seen as alternative source of dowry provision to the family of a girl-child.
These custodians of the Kurya culture identify the expert locally called Ngariba and then arrange the ceremony, where a girl’s clitoris is cut off as they preach that men should not marry girls, who are not circumcised (calling them open).
In an interview with the ‘Daily News’ at Kipunguni Ward in Dar es Salaam, an area where most of the residents hail from the indigenous tribe, Victoria said a number of the people believe that a Kurya girl must undergo Female Genital Mutilation.
After the December rains, traditional leaders and village elders gather to consult these traditional circumcisers (Ngaribas) and their gods on the best date to start the unprofessional Clitoridectomy (the surgical removal, reduction, or partial removal of the clitoris.) Every high season, many girls die due to heavy loss of blood or infection, and those who survive the procedure carry the pain and psychological trauma with them for a lifetime. Health care providers have a duty and are in many ways uniquely positioned to support the eradication of this FGM, by continuously promoting community understanding and objection that the practice is contrary to human rights as well as reproductive and sexual health of a woman.
“During my lifetime in the practice, I used to cut (a loose word for the FGM) 100 young girls from 6am to 10am every day, and none has ever died in my hands,” said Bhoke, a Ngariba who left the business and lives at Kipunguni in Dar es Salaam.
Although, Bhoke says that some girls die in the practice, but according to their custom when one dies as a result of heavy bleeding, she should not be buried but must be thrown away far from the village or left to be eaten by the animals like hyena, because she is a sign of bad omen to the society.
She further says that some Kurya parents brought her their daughter all the way from Mara region to undergo the FGM in Dar es Salaam, and because it was her way of eking out a living, she used to charge about 30,000/- for a virgin one and 50,000/- if one has ever engaged in sex.
However, Ms Bhoke left the business and now engages in different income activities of growing vegetables with assistance from Kipunguni Knowledge Center (KKC) located at kipunguni area in Ilala District, in Dar es Salaam.
A close follow up noted that KKC also operates a safe house for girls, who escape such FGM in prone areas and thereafter engage them in vegetable farming as a scheme to assist them continue earning a living.
According to KKC founder and chairperson, Seleman Bishagazi, reinstating girls and women who have escaped FGM involves psychological address and some piece of land and capital to start a business so that they also fend for themselves once they go back to their homesteads.
He says the economic boom during the FGM seasons (every two years) is not sustainable to the Ngaribas, who are promoting the practice as a source of income; hence, there is a need to empower them with alternative sustainable source of income.
“If the cutters known as Ngaribas stop practicing FGM, they can earn a sustainable income of a minimum of 20,000/- on daily basis as a source of income to carry them throughout the year.” Mr Bishagazi, who is also a trader in the clothing industry, says there should be a continuous awareness campaign raised on consequences of FGM in the public and mobilising people to fight it as a Gender Based Violence (GBV).
“The fight should also include child marriage and early pregnancy, something I learnt after participating in Tanzania Gender Network Programme (TGNP) and Gender and Development Seminar Series (GDSS) in Dar es Salaam. “Young girls from Kurya community in Dar es Salaam are at risk and should be the major beneficiaries of KKC’s programme activities. Here we also have the parents, ex-Ngaribas, traditional elders, local officials, religious and educational institutions in Kipunguni and neighbouring wards,” he adds.
Zabron Michael, one of the Kurya leaders in Kipunguni has been promoting anti-FGM campaigns because of the practice’s physical and psychological trauma on girls and he is the one who also influenced Bishagazi to join him in the fight.
Once he met Bishagazi, as an activist who persuaded him to attend the GBV, TGNP workshops as well as other anti-FGM campaigns, he saw the importance of fighting the practice actively in the public.
“After being trained about Gender Based Violence and women’s rights, my daughters will not be cut even though my wife and sisters were circumcised,” he says.
The Demographic and Health Survey 2015/16 in Tanzania, shows that one in 10 women in the country have been circumcised, and 81 per cent of them reported removal of flesh (introitus), 7 percent reported their genital area to have been sewn close (infibulate).
The data also indicates that majority of circumcised women (86 per cent) were circumcised by traditional practitioners. The survey also reveals that, women and girls aged 15 to 49 who live in rural areas are twice as likely as their urban counterparts to undergo FGM (13 per cent rural versus 5 per cent urban).
The Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children is committed to ending female genital mutilation by 2030 within the framework of the global agenda for sustainable development.
In the five-year National Plan of Action to End Violence Against Women and Children (NPA-VAWC) 2017-2022, the government identifies the FGM as an urgent priority with a set target to reduce it in the course of its five-year strategy.
World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that, 3 million girls are at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation, the majority of whom are cut before they turn 15 years.
The eradication of FGM can only be achieved through a strong and coordinated approach implemented at local, regional, national and international levels while supportive education and targeted training are recommended to enable all stakeholders to sensitively and respectfully address this complex and long-standing practice.