Despite a police crackdown to stop female genital mutilation (FGM), a practice that affects millions of girls in Tanzania, cases of FGM are still being reported.
Woman traveled to Ng’ereng’ere village in Tarime district where we got to meet a woman who has transformed her life after leaving the ancient tradition.
She is with her granddaughter trying to convince her on the impacts of undergoing female genital mutilation; Meet Paulina Matinde, a 67 year old woman living in Ng’ereng’ere village, Sirari ward, Tarime Urban district, who has been a female circumciser for the past twenty three (23) years. She says it is high time people get to know of the consequences female genital mutilation has on the victimised children.
The elderly woman informs that her life is now in jeopardy as the village clan elders want to punish her to the extent of deciding a death sentence upon her, claiming that she has gone against her obligations by deciding to quit the practice.
“I decided to stop this kind of ritual obligation because I wanted to turn to God, I have been doing it knowing that it is illegal before the government and holly books, too,” Matinde acknowledges.
She says, before marriage while in her teenage years, she never imagined involving herself in such mythical inclination. She inherited the profession from her mother in-law who died of natural causes due to old age.
“Back at my home, none of my relatives participated in this kind of tale. My parents were Christians hence such ceremonies had no room in our house,” she speaks.
In as much as Matinde got to practice circumcision ritual, her inheritance of the practice didn’t stem from family lineage. She got in to the practice through her mother-in-law after the passing of her husband.
“In mid-60’s, I got married to a man from a different clan, my parents had no problem with that because my prospective husband had enough dowry to pay for me. Since I had fallen in love with the man, I too could not hesitate to take the chance to become his wife,” Matinde speaks.
The Abasweta, Abangurweme and many more clans in Mara region, make up Kurian community. She was therefore a Msweta from Kilumi, Serengeti district.
Matinde informs that her wedlock never lasted for more than ten years before her husband unfortunately passed away in Morogoro where he worked in masonry.
In regard to the taboos from both clans which make up Kurian community, Matinde could no longer go back to her home as the dowry had already been paid and there was no alternative to reverse the protocols.
“I had to accept the deeds that I will have to stay and raise my two children whom I was blessed with from my marriage to my late husband. I had to begin a new life, staying close to my mother in-law who was the only person to support me to make ends meet,” she says.
Getting involved in the ritual
During the circumcision ceremonies, her mother in-law would encourage her and order her to carry some of her working tools towards the ‘field’ where hundreds of young ladies waited for the razor-blade, seated in a queue.
She said during this moment, the mother-in-law, who was old enough to be attributed full respect would show her how the tools are being handled and also the kind of clothes one needs to put on to perform the exercise which takes place after every three years (three-year-seasoned exercise).
“When my mother in-law passed on in early 90s, the clan elders automatically chose me because the deceased had proposed to them behind my back that if she happens to die anytime, anywhere, I (Matinde) will carry on with her duties. I had to accept but keeping in mind that I won’t do it for long,” she speaks..
Matinde states that the money received from performing this exercise is insignificant because it cannot help on development. One will eat and keep livestock which cannot be sold or be exchanged for anything. A lot of sacrifices are being demonstrated before the whole event yet there is no reward to show for it.
“I noted that the Sh10, 000 paid per head to perform this cold-hearted practice first passes through the hands of clan elders before being handed to me. So I knew that it is partly to this reason that the money does little to help. It is so rare for someone with deep-rooted belief in rituals to think of anything economic or developmental,” she says.
Matinde knew that abandoning to perform the ritual would cost her in one way or another. She had plans to quit earlier than she did, only that her plans hadn’t fully materialised and her children were still young, hence needed her guidance and presence.
It is due to divine intervention that she finally got the guts to quit performing FGM..
“I had a calling from up above which warned me against practicing such a gruesome ritual. Additionally, I knew I was committing an unmitigated sin by victimising innocent girls,” she confesses.
Why she got involved
Matinde says due to fear of dying, she couldn’t defy what the clan elders had decided. After her name was presented forward by her late mother-in-law, she couldn’t back down because the elders had also agreed with the suggestion of her taking over the practice.
The elders saw such a duty as a will from their god and so Matinde had to continue the custom lest she leave her fatherless children orphans.
“What normally happens behind such customary rituals is something that only a few people understand. Most people do not understand what traditional circumcisers go through, the sacrifices made are so frightening and if you do not do as you are told you might end up losing your life in the process,” a sad Matinde speaks.
The now retired traditional circumciser says she felt guilty for performing such a ritual. She wanted her heart to be in the right place before she passes on. She then made a bold decision to quit the practice, a move which she knew would come with a lot of consequences.
“My mother in-law died before repenting, I never wanted to follow her footsteps but instead seek for forgiveness before my time on this earth is up. Right now I sleep at the village executive leader’s domain in fear of attacks from the clan elders. I just come home during the day when it’s bright because I know they cannot harm me in broad day light,” a fearful Matinde explains.
Effects identified during mutilation
Women who undergo FGM are faced with very many problems; from being tortured psychologically by the whole experience, to the physical agony they go through during the exercise itself. They have to endure the pain of genital mutilation and are not taken to the hospital for any medical care.
“Most men from Kurian community believe that circumcised women have low levels of sexual appetite and hence stay clear of men thereby avoiding contraction of sexually transmitted diseases. However, they forget that such an unprofessional exercise, performed under the most extreme of circumstances exposes women to other health hazards such as contracting cervical diseases, especially when giving birth for the first time,” she says.
What she does for a living today
Apart from modern farming on maize and other seasonal crops, Matinde has managed to open up a shop. Her business, despite of little income, is better than the money she used to make as a traditional circumciser. For this, she would have to wait for about two to three years to make the money, and at the end of it all, the money wouldn’t be spent on anything significant, she knew it came with strings attached.
“During the circumcision event, I used to make up to Sh2million but within a month after the exercise the whole money would be over. I clearly noted that due to the involvement of elders and the channels the money would pass through before getting to me, it had to have some problems, therefore it’s better I sweat for the little I’m making now, as long as it’s genuinely made,” she notes.
Her children now also support her in any way. Since she changed, she has never thought of recycling the vice again.
What experts say on FGM
Dr. Joseph Nyakoba, a health Specialist at Shirati Hospital, Rorya District hospital in Mara says FGM involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue and interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies. Immediate complications can include severe pain, shock, hemorrhage (bleeding), tetanus or bacterial infection, urine retention and open sores.
“It doesn’t have any advantage at all but instead it initiates health complications to our children,” Dr. Nyakoba says.
Dr Leonard Subi, a Mwanza Medical Regional Officer, says female genital mutilation can lead to death, severe chronic pains, urinary tract infections, fistula, incontinence, infertility, Painful intercourse and painful septicemia.