Escaping from the knife


Date: January 1, 1970
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?I was infibulated at the age of six. I remember every bit of it … The terrible pain and lying tied up for several weeks. It hurt terribly and I cried and cried. I could not understand why this was done to me.

“I was infibulated at the age of six. I remember every bit of it … The terrible pain and lying tied up for several weeks. It hurt terribly and I cried and cried. I could not understand why this was done to me.

“When I was 13, my aunts examined me and declared that I was not closed enough. They took me to a traditional midwife. When I noticed where they were taking me, I tried to escape, but they held me firmly and dragged me to the midwife’s home. They held me down firmly and covered my mouth so that I could not scream.

“They cut my genitals and this time the midwife made sure I was closed. In terrible pain I was carried home. I was tied up and could not move. I could not urinate and my stomach became swollen. Some few days later, the midwife came.

“I thought she wanted to operate on me again. I screamed and lost consciousness. I woke up in a private hospital ward. There were moaning women around me. I did not know where I was. My legs and my genital area were all swollen. Later the doctor told me that a re-infibulation had been performed on me to cut open and let the urine and pus out, so that my swollen stomach could subside. “I was terribly weak and wanted to die. Why would my mother do this to me? What had I done to be hurt so terribly?

“It is years now. The doctors tell me that I can never have children because of the infection. Therefore no wedding bells for me, because no man can marry a woman who cannot have children.”

This is the story of many women and girls in Uganda where Female Genital Mutilation is still practiced. Not only do women and girls bear the pain, bleeding, infections and other physical complications that can even result in death, they also carry psychological scars which affect their self-image and sexual lives.

To escape the knife, hundreds of girls are now running away from their homes. The lucky ones find places at the Peace Girls High School in the Ugandan capital of Kampala, where they receive free education. The school evolved in 2000 from a campaign about the effect of FGM on girls’ health and education by human rights groups, such as Amnesty, among others, and several prominent politicians from Kapchwora, north eastern Uganda, where the practice is more widely practiced. Although the girls run away, the danger is not over. If caught, she must face a disciplinary committee.

These girls however should not have anything to fear if the government took stronger action. The State has an obligation to prevent violence against women and to protect the young from abuse.

What is needed is a movement to criminalize FGM. The practice also must be seen as a violation of women’s rights to preserve the integrity of their bodies.

And, FGM should not be tagged as a ‘women’s issue’, because it is an issue that concerns women and men who believe in equality, dignity and fairness to all humans regardless of gender, race, religion or ethnicity. Everyone should take up arms and fight FGM because it denies women and girls their right to sustainable health.

Allen Ssekindi is a journalist and member of the Ugandan Media Women’s Association.

This article is part of the GEM Opinion and Commentary Service that provides views and perspectives on current events.

janine@genderlinks.org.za for more information.


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