Source: Tanzania Daily News
AFRICAN women who undergo female genital mutilation are in essence victims of their traditions and customs. Generally, most countries practise this culture to protect their customs.

In that case, many women, especially young girls, suffer a lot for being the target of this weird culture. A strategy designed to reduce the number of female genital mutilation cases in Mtibwa Ward, Mvomero District, Morogoro region appears to bear fruit.

In a research conducted on gender based violence in Mvomero, the Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA) has established that joint efforts by a number of Non Governmental Organizations committed to eradicating FGM by creating awareness to communities have paid dividend.

Mtibwa Ward Executive Officer, Mr Charles Msimbe said the bad practice is gradually dying though some communities still see FGM as a cultural practice that should not be abandoned. He said in his ward, the FGM is still common among the Maasai, Mang'ati and Watunguu, though they are practising it secretly. With such an ingrained sense of culture and tradition, it can be very difficult to persuade Maasai people to let go of traditional practices like FGM.

One of the Maasai women at Kidudwe Village within the Ward, Magdalena Langasi said FGM is practiced through a recently culture of silence and often perpetuators of the practice are not reported, for fear of the law. Instead, she said, parents have come up with a new option whereas they ask for a study leave for their children and send them to far and remote villages to take up the harmful practice.

She said the practice of FGM derives from varied and complex belief systems and rituals surrounding women's fertility and control of their sexuality in traditional male dominated societies. The reasons given by communities that practice FGM vary widely but a common reason given for the practice is that it reduces the sexual desire of girls and women, promotes virginity and chastity, maintains fidelity among married women, as well as for hygienic and aesthetic reasons. In some practicing groups, FGM is central to girls' rites of passage into adulthood and it is an integral part of society's definition of womanhood.

There are push factors that act as great incentives for families to continue the practice. In communities where it is a tradition, girls and women who do not undergo FGM are stigmatized and discriminated against for non-compliance with traditional norms. Stigma and discrimination may take the form of not being marriageable, as FGM is considered a prerequisite for marriage in some Maasai and Mang'ati tribes.

Mrs Langasi cited the "bride price" which is part of the marriage transaction in their community has a great economical influence to the family of the bride. This may not be paid if the bride has not undergone FGM. In the Maasai myth, she elaborates, every Maasai girl reaching adolescence has to undergo FGM, which has been used to curb sexual desire and promiscuity amongst girls.

By undergoing FGM, girls bring honour to both themselves and their families. Even educated Maasai men and women who are aware of the risks FGM poses practice it for fear of rejection by wider Maasai society. Regardless of how educated she may be or her high social status, an "uncircumcised" Maasai woman is considered a girl child and risks isolation from the community, as well as zero-tonil prospects of finding a spouse within the community.

The Maasai FGM ceremony is a large annual community celebration for all girls who have reached adolescence during the year. During the course of the celebration, groups of girls mostly between the ages of 12 and 14 undergo FGM on the same day by traditional "circumcisers" (usually experienced elderly women). After undergoing FGM, the girls go into seclusion during which they are taught their rights and duties as women.

They return to society, where they are considered fully grown women, capable of being married. However, Mrs Langasi explained due to the laws set up, the religious believe, education given out to girls has reduced drastically the FGM. "You will hardly see such kind of ceremonies currently and if they are done, the perpetrators take them secretively, it will take time but it will end," she said. In spite of their ingrained sense of culture and tradition, the Maasai have shown a degree of openness to change.

Girls who undergo FGM are also provided with rewards, including public recognition and celebrations, gifts, the potential for marriage, respect and the ability to participate in social functions as adult women. The rewards may motivate some girls to look forward to undergoing FGM. Generally, the risks and complications associated with FGM are similar, but they tend to be significantly more severe and prevalent the more extensive the procedure is. Immediate consequences include severe pain and psychological trauma, bleeding, shock, infections, and in some instances death.

Long-term consequences can include chronic pain, infections, cyst formation, clitoral neuroma, decreased sexual enjoyment, and psychological consequences like post-traumatic stress disorder. FGM is often a precursor of early and forced marriage in many FGM practising societies. In these traditional societies, adulthood is not only determined by biological age but by the rites of passage from childhood to adulthood, which from a community perspective automatically translate into marriage, irrespective of the biological age of the girl.

"The parents agree on the number of cattle for dowry and you will see them gaining wealthy at the expense of girls who ultimately drop out of schools," said Msimbe As a result, lack of a complete education exacerbates their economic dependency on their husbands. Coupled with a lack of negotiation skills, this leaves these girls more vulnerable to abuse.

Similarly, difficulties in negotiating sexual relations can also increase their vulnerability to HIV transmission. Human rights and cultural self determination FGM is almost always carried out on minors who do not have sufficient knowledge to understand its implication Mr Msimbe said there is an increasing numbers of Maasai children's being enrolled in formal education institutions.

There, they are likely to learn about the risks associated with FGM. Over time, it is hoped that this process will help to smooth the way towards ending harmful practices like FGM, in a natural manner that will not take away from the Maasai but which will rather add to their culture, as well as the well-being of their community.

Mlumbilo Village Executive officer, Kujunja Joram Kubunja whose village caters for majority of Maasai and Mang'ati said the support for the continuation of FGM is greater among rural women especially those in remote and isolated areas. He said opposition to FGM is related to education, change of life style and wealth. Men in urban areas, those with higher education, and those living in households in the higher wealth quintiles are less likely to support the continuation of the practice.

The targeted communities are given education and information on the dangers of FGM. The animators increase community awareness through public, religious, and political meetings, and they also carry out home visits. It is very important to have such influential leaders, because they safeguard traditional values and codes of conduct as they have the power to change the culture and practices and introduce new ideas. He also believes that once girls understand the dangers of the practice, and are equipped with knowledge of the law and their human rights, they can take a stand and refuse to undergo the practice.

In Kunke village, where the communities of Wanguu and Wazigua reside, undertake the FGM after harvesting. The village officer Ally Hassan said they have collaborated with officials and organisations working in such neighbouring villages to develop and harmonise strategies for protecting girls from FGM and early forced marriage.

The drive involves local animators who disseminate information about FGM and are members of the targeted communities and live among them; church leaders who vehemently condemn the practice and take it up in their denominational engagements; and the engagement of law enforcement officers. Anti-FGM education and awareness creation is still required by all community members practicing FGM and early marriage.

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