Source: Daily News

Unlike many other days on the calendar where a certain day signifies the commemoration of an event and a lot of the times these commemorations have a happy connotation to it, February 6, isn't one of them unfortunately.

Every February 6, the world receive the day with heads bowed because it is the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation.

It is the day to remember that there is an estimated 125 million girls and women alive today who have been cut in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East.

It is the day to ponder on very serious issues in society, to ponder that if current trends continue, some 86 million young girls worldwide are likely to experience some form of the practice by 2030.

According to the online Free Dictionary, Female genital mutilation (FGM) is the cutting, or partial or total removal, of the external female genitalia for cultural, religious, or other non-medical reasons.

It is usually performed on girls between the ages of four and 10. It is also called female circumcision. FGM results in the cutting or removal of the tissues around the vagina that give women pleasurable sexual feelings. This procedure is used for social and cultural control of women's sexuality.

In its most extreme form, infibulations, where the girl's vagina is sewn shut, the procedure ensures virginity. In some cultures where female circumcision has been a tradition for hundreds of years, this procedure is considered a rite of passage for young girls.

Families fear that if their daughters are left uncircumcised, they may not be marriageable. As in most cultures, there is also the fear that the girl might bring shame to the family by being sexually active and becoming pregnant before marriage.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that between 100 million and 140 million girls and women have undergone some form of FGM. As a very deeply rooted cultural and religious tradition still practiced in over 28 African and Asian countries, up to two million girls per year are at risk.

The following countries have the highest number of occurrences of FGM: Djibouti (98 per cent), Egypt (97 per cent), Eritrea (95 per cent), Guinea (99 per cent), Mali (94 per cent), Sierra Leone (90 per cent), and Somalia (98- 100 per cent).

As more people move to Western countries from countries where female circumcision is performed, the practice has come to the attention of health professionals in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia.

A couple of days prior to bowing of heads to mark the International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM, a coalition of 12 organisations in the country joined forces and pledged to reduce the prevalence of FGM from 15 per cent to zero.

The Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) Capacity Building, Research and Information, Ms Emelda Urio said that just as it was possible to get rid of HIV/AIDS, with collaborative efforts, eradicating FGM was feasible.

"The Legal and Human Rights Centre has endeavoured to meet traditional leaders and educated them on the health implications on FGM, and it is helping. What is needed is for NGOs working on FGM to help the government and for it to exercise and amend existing legislation," she said.

According to the Africa coalition on maternal, newborn and child health website, Tanzania in 2013 was ranked 19th with a prevalence of 15 per cent.

The 12 organisations include LHRC, Women Wake Up (WOWAP), Dodoma Inter-Africa Committee (DIAC), Network Against FGM (NAFGEM), Tanzania Women Lawyers Association (TAWLA), Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA), Anti FGM network AFNET, Christian Council of Tanzania (CCT), CDF, the Muslim Council of Tanzania (Bakwata), House of Peace and World Vision.

"Apart from Singida being one of the leading regions, evidence is showing the FGM is now being practiced on infants, something that is very worrying. Knowing the magnitude of this human rights violation is a challenge since it is done behind closed doors," she said.

According to the Demographic Survey conducted in 2012 Manyara region leads with 71 per cent, Arusha 55 per cent and Mara 40 per cent. The LHRC Constitution Affairs Coordinator, Ms Anne Henga said that it was her conviction that if law enforcers did more and the law had more bite to it, a significant difference can be made.

Ms Henga said that there was a time when they set up camp in Tarime after learning that 5000 women were going under the knife and that after it happened, they were paraded on the streets and the police sat aside and only watched.

On the day of the commemoration, the United Nations Secretary General, Mr Ban ki Moon said in a statement that there is no developmental, religious or health reason to cut or mutilate any girl or woman.

"Although some would argue that this is a 'tradition,' we must recall that slavery, so called honour killings and other inhumane practices have been defended with the same weak argument. "Just because a harmful practice has long existed does not justify its continuation.

All 'traditions' that demean, dehumanise and injure are human rights violations that must be actively opposed until they are ended," he said. Recently, Uganda, Kenya and Guinea- Bissau adopted laws to end FGM.

In Ethiopia, those responsible have been arrested, tried and penalised, with full media coverage further raising public awareness. In Sudan, there is social change from a campaign called "Saleema," the Arabic word that implies complete, intact, whole and untouched.

One father moved by the effort who decided to leave his daughters uncut explained simply, "A girl is born Saleema, so leave her Saleema." Hundreds of communities have embraced this initiative, expressing their support through songs, poetry and clothes in the campaign's trademark bright colours.

Other countries are emulating Saleema or coming up with solutions tailored to their local needs, such as Kenya, where Meru community elders have prohibited FGM and vow to impose a fine on anyone who conducts or abets the practice. Mr Moon said that the United Nations is working with partners to help those who have been affected by FGM.

Pioneering medical advances now allow doctors to repair women's bodies and restore their health. "I recall the words of one physician working in Burkina Faso who described "the relief that overwhelms women" following the surgery, which she said is 100 per cent effective.

The many women who lack the resources needed to travel to the right facilities and the programmes that offer proper treatment deserve generous support," he said. In 2010, together with officials from the Legal and Human Rights Centre, a team of journalists visited Tarime after hearing hundreds of girls were going under the cut that year.

Until this day, cold sweat drips down my spine when I remember the girls being paraded on the streets like prized bulls after being cut. I concur with others that our laws need more bite and the abusers be labeled as terrorists and serial killers who deserve the lethal injection.


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