Source: Daily News
Women's health is one of the issues that were discussed by Constituent Assembly (CA) women members, when they convened at Saint Gasper Hotel in Dodoma recently.

The twelve CA committees have started meeting on Tuesday this week and the women caucus has unanimously decided to speak as one voice on issues related to women, especially reproductive health.

The CA women members from the ruling party, the opposition and from the 201 group say that once women's welfare is included in the new Katiba, there will be some positive change in the society automatically.

The chairperson of the Tanzania Women Parliamentary Group (TWPG), Mrs Anna Abdallah insists that the welfare of women and children who have always been victims of the patriarchy system should feature in discussions going on in the 12 committees discussing the second Draft Constitution.

One of the issues that persisted in the meeting was a discussion on how to stop Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) that involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. CA women said though cutting is illegal in Tanzania, it is still widely practised in various parts of the country.

The law states that if caught, practitioners and promoters can go to prison, but this law has not been put into practice effectively. For example, the Tanzania first criminalised FGM in 1998 in the sexual offences Special Provision Act amended the Penal Code.

It stated that any person who, having the custody, charge or care of any person under 18 years of age, ill treats, neglects, or abandons that person or causes FGM or procures that person to be assaulted commits the offence of cruelty to children.

The law further states that any person who commits the offence of cruelty to children is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of not less than five years or to a fine not exceeding three hundred thousand shillings or both the fine and imprisonment.

Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA) Executive Director, Ms Valerie Msoka who is also one of the CA members told her fellow women members that a girl's body belong to her and not to her mother, boyfriend, husband, to her community or to her country.

"Cutting a minor, who can't legally consent, is a violation of her human rights under the convention of the rights of the child. Cutting of women and girls is a violation of their right to a healthy sexual life as naturally inscribed in their bodies," she insists.

Speaking at the meeting, Deputy Minister for Legal and Constitutional Affairs, Mrs Angela Kairuki called upon he fellow CA women to disown FGM because at the time of cutting young girls they experience extensive bleeding and anaemia, shock, difficulty in passing urine or faeces, infections and even death.

"We should fight FGM practice because in the long term it has complications like vaginal cysts, lack of pressure during vaginal intercourse, clitoral neuroma that causes sharp pains and menstrual disorders.

Others are birth complications and psychological trauma," she added. Another CA member Mrs Magreth Sitta called upon her fellow women to abandon myths associated with FGM practice.

"Some tribes believe that the clitoris will continue to grow as the girl gets older and so calling for its removal. This is a wrong belief because that organ is perfectly designed that assists in child birth and its removal is detrimental to woman's health," she insisted.

Another CA member, Mrs Anna Kilango Malecela advised women in communities which practice FGM not to believe that girls who have not been cut will never get married and will be shunned by their communities.

"Girls who have not been cut get married and have families, leading full productive lives. We should not be afraid to pin point this fact," she says. Mrs Malecela was reacting to views presented by one CA member from Mara region who had told the meeting that there was a belief in one of the tribes in that region that insists that if a girl has not gone through FGM practice she will not be married.

Prof Esther Daniel Mwaikambo, Professor of Paediatrics and Child Health who presented a paper to the CA members, said that protecting a woman's life when giving birth was a fundamental human right to life and health.

"We need to protect our women when giving birth, because some of them die due to some problems that could be avoidable. When our dispensaries, heath centres and hospitals have enough facilities, number of women dying during delivery shall go down," she says.

Another CA member Umi Mwalimu told the meeting that the new Katiba should clearly state rights of women to enable them avoid humiliating practices like FGM. "We should do a comparative study and learn how our friends in Ghana, Kenya and South Africa have struggled to address issues related to women's health are defined in their constitutions," she says.

Data revealed by United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) says that Manyara Region leads in FGM practice, where 71 per cent of all women there undergo the dreadful operation.

Other regions and the percentage of women affected by FGM are Dodoma (64), Arusha (59), Singida (51), Mara (40), Kilimanjaro (22), Morogoro (21) Iringa (13) and Tanga Region has 20 per cent of its women suffering from FGM practice.

Tabora and Coast regions have each 6 per cent of their women undergoing FGM practice, while in Dar es Salaam, 4 per cent of women practice FGM. Two per cent of women in Ruvuma Region have been cut.

Regions like Kagera, Kigoma, Mwanza, Shinyanga, Rukwa, Mbeya and Lindi, only one per cent of their women are 'circumcised,' while in Mtwara FGM is not practised at all, the same case applies to Pemba and Zanzibar South.

Other areas in the Isles - only one per cent of the women have experienced FGM. It is estimated in last year's UNICEF report that 7.9 million women and girls in Tanzania have been circumcised.

The new evidence from that research showed that girls practised FGM at a younger age - with those cut before age one year increasing from 28.4 per cent to 31.7 per cent. A change in the law has brought fear of prosecution and is driving the practice underground.

This belief is much in evidence and needs addressing through teaching and retraining. The estimated overall prevalence of FGM in girls and women (15-49 years) is 14.6 per cent, which has not changed since 2004.

According to the recent Demographic Health Survey (DHS), the estimated prevalence of FGM in girls and women (15-49 years) is 14.6 per cent, reflecting a decrease by 3.3 per cent from 17.9 per cent in 1996.

Such data calls for more efforts in eliminating practices like FGM, which for years have affected women, making them suffer from such humiliating customs.

SOME of the tools used in practising Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). (File photo)

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