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A man makes a contribution during a public event at Kapnorongo market, Binyiny Town Council.
The alcohol that had been brewed to celebrate her transition into womanhood was instead used to mark her funeral. Twenty years later, we are still waiting for her to wake up. She slept in visible pain. Everyone watching her undergo the ritual saw her die in helpless pain. The saddest thing was that no one dared to help. The seemingly happy mood quickly switched to gloom; Darkness descended upon the village, leaving everyone grumbling; why had she died? Was it worth it? Could it have been avoided?’
This was just one of the narratives from a woman who attended CEDOVIP’s public event at Chebusurwa, Kabelyo parish, Moyok sub-county in Kween district. The 65-year-old woman said that she has witnessed countless women under go female genital mutilation in her lifetime: “I have seen women being cut since I was little. I have witnessed all forms of mutilation using different kinds of knives and razors. I have myself been mutilated and so have all my sisters. I believe I have very vivid stories to tell about FGM,” she said.
Men in empathy with women
During the 16 days of activism campaign against violence against women, CEDOVIP with support from the UKAid conducted 10 public events in Kween district. The public events were aimed at raising public awareness about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), its consequences; clarify misconceptions about FGM and to inspire community members’ commitment to take action to prevent and respond to FGM. Public discussions that engaged approximately 8,316 community members (4,823 women, 2,329 men and 1,164 youth/children) were held to inspire community members to this effect and the dialogues brought out hopeful results. Residents were particularly alarmed when for the first time they were exposed to different pictures of the female genitalia where they learnt about the functions of each part of the female genitalia and the harm that is caused when some or all of the parts of the female genitalia are mutilated. Even those who were vocal advocates of FGM as a way of life for their people and a cultural unifier at the start of the discussion were silenced by their new acquired knowledge.
They went from protestors to advocates of change. “My wife is cut, and I have been a strong advocate of FGM. I am one of those who provokes uncut women whenever I meet them. I call them small girls who should not be allowed to speak in the presence of those who have been initiated through cutting. However, the pictures which I saw today have changed my perception of FGM. I now know why I always feel pain whenever I am having sex with my wife; we both experience pain during sex and it is not pleasant at all. Our women have really been tortured by these experiences,” remarked one of the men at Chekwositen, Mulyaboi village Binyiny Town council.
Women speak out about the suffering they have undergone
One thing was consistent in the 10 public events; women spoke out boldly about their painful experience after going through FGM. Most women who spoke out testified that they knew of someone who had died immediately after FGM or while giving birth after being cut. “Before I was cut, I had given birth to 3 children. Because I was often ridiculed and stigmatized for being uncut, I was unable to withstand the insults, I decided to be cut; the results were life threatening. First, I fainted for some time due to excess pain and bleeding. When I woke up I felt something of value had been taken out of me – I have felt cold ever since that day.
I have also never been able to enjoy sex as a result – it is always a painful experience for me. The worst of them all has been child birth. I have since given birth to 4 more children; however, they have been the most painful deliverances I have experienced. I literally feel my body tearing. I have never stopped regretting the decision to undergo FGM,” said a woman at Chekwata village, Moyok sub-county. She added that the majority of her friends have decided to stop having sex with their husbands due to the unbearable pain they experience at every sexual encounter, and also stopped having children. She further remarked that the majority of her female friends have opted to let their husbands marry other women so as to free themselves from the burden of having very painful sex.
Women’s difficult coping mechanisms
Talking to women during the public events, you would not miss a verifiable pattern among the circumcised women. Most of them confessed that they had totally lost interest in sex after being cut. “In fact I always pray my husband is never in the mood for sex,” said one of the women at Kapnorongo Market, Binyiny Town council. Most of the circumcised women said their husbands had either taken a second or even third (uncircumcised) wife. “In my case, because I could no longer bare the pain during sex, I asked my husband to find his sexual pleasure elsewhere. I gave him permission to marry another woman, and he did. Now I feel much relief and as a result I have not had sex in over 10 years because the pain is unbearable. It is torture and nothing close to enjoyable,” said a woman at Chekwir village, Moyok sub-county.
Circumcised women, who talked publically and in private to CEDOVIP, said they are living in polygamous marriages because they could no longer satisfy the sex needs of their men and many of them say it was a much needed compromise. This is a double tragedy because the women and children’s vulnerability and burdens increase where such women and their children do not have much power and voice in such polygamous arrangements. Furthermore, in households with limited resources, basic things such as food, land, medical care and education become impossible to access. The idea of sexual pleasure means nothing to them anymore. The irony is that the community has often not questioned is that the very men who want the sexual pleasure are the very ones who advocate and compel their women to undergo FGM. One woman said “kice muut maat nyo suutu mucaasta” translated as “they have cut off the fire that gives one sexual appetite/ urge”.
A woman speaking during a public event at Kabelyo, Moyok sub-county Kween district officials make commitments
Beating the odds
The whole practice of FGM has been built on strong social norms, myths and mystery. The general belief is that if you are uncut, you are unclean; if you are un cut, you won’t be able to give birth to children; if you are un cut, you cannot climb into the granary to get food, uncut women bring bad omen that causes their husband’s death and the belief that every one in this community is cut, plus many more myths. I am a living testimony when it comes to debunking these myths. I am not cut yet I have produced 9 children with my husband – and he is not dead, I climb into the granary to get my food, I go into the kraal to milk my cows and they are not dead, I talk in front of men and women without shame. My take is that these stereotypical ideas are obsolete and no longer hold in the current dispensation,” said a woman during a public event at Binyiny trading centre, Binyiny Town council. For the first time in this community there was a safe space for women to speak out. Women who spoke out during the public were against FGM practice, they strongly challenged any justifications for cutting of women. They amplified their voices to condemn the practice as a way of oppressing women and called for change. The women much more than men were visibly scarred from the effects of FGM.
The practice of silence and allegiance to FGM
When a woman is circumcised in the Sabiny custom, four marks are put on her right hand to indicate that she has fulfilled the tradition and she is a fully grown and recognized person in their community. The women are made to believe that the four marks were inflicted by a mysterious leopard. Yet none of them has ever seen this leopard. All the marks are made in characteristically uniform fashion to brand those who have under gone FGM. In fact, the rituals that surround the marking of the right hand are shrouded in mystery. The mentors who take the women through ‘the marking of the hand ceremony’ give strict instructions for them to take an oath that they will never narrate to anybody about what they saw during the ritual – and it is almost impossible to get any woman who has been cut to say what was done to them during these rituals.
The fact that women are prohibited from speaking about what they go through during these FGM rituals is a deeply entrenched tradition that compels women to surrender their rights, and this perpetuates the oppression/violence women go through. They are prohibited from: talking about their FGM experiences; rejecting any sexual advance from their spouses even when they are not in the mood, they have no power to stop their bodies from being mutilated, and uncut women are excluded from socio-economic participation. The four marks seem to announce that “this is a woman who has properly been initiated into womanhood, listen to her” but at what price? Yet also the marks play a role of clearly distinguishing women who have not been cut who are then faced with social stigma as a way of putting pressure on them to cut for them to be recognized and socially accepted in their communities.
Community resolution to change
As a way forward, in the 8 villages where CEDOVIP is working with the men and women to create the much needed change, the community members echoed the same voices about the negative consequences of FGM and the need to collectively prevent FGM. During the 10 public events in these areas, the repeated collective resolution was that the time is now to prevent all forms of FGM. The men, women, leaders and children said it is an oppressive practice that erodes the dignity and health of women. “Recently, a woman with children was cut in my area just because they kept telling her that she was a girl not a woman. People saw her naked in public while she was being cut. What struck me most was that her children were so embarrassed and humiliated. One of her boys treats the mother with contempt for putting the family through a shameful process. Who needs such a practice that shames us all? I think this should be stopped as soon possible,” said a 15-year-old boy during the public event at Kwobus village, Binyiny Town council. Community members recognized that preventing and protecting women and girls from getting circumcised require concerted efforts from everyone and corner of the district and thus they committed to:
Kween district officials make commitments
District officials who included, CAO, DCDO, DPC, RDC secretary Gender, CDOs and parish chiefs of Binyiny and Moyok sub counties expressed support toward preventing women and girls from being coerced into FGM.
This approach provokes everyone to talk about FGM and reflecting on its implication to the lives of women and girls in particular , when we came to Tukuumo village in Binyiny as district officials to stop some community member from carrying out FGM, some community members ganged up and become violent (throwing stones at us, beating up people with sticks, use pangas among others) it is now on record that CEDOVIP conducted FGM Awareness peacefully and people were very free and open to talking about the practice and its consequences. According to statistics that were read by the District planner Kween district, Tukumo is the village that has the highest percentage of girls that were cut early this year. I want to urge everyone to take this discussion seriously, talk to friends and neighbors and commit to participate in more of these activities to learn more on how to make the community and homes safe for everyone. CAOe school going girls to undergo FGM.
District offcials committed to the following;