Dar es Salaam. For many years, Mara Region has been known to be on the list of regions leading in Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) practices in Tanzania, but recent reports have shown that this has changed as the cases from the region are falling drastically.
This success is thanks to the efforts done by some residents originating from the region who have opted to stop engaging in FGM.
Some of those who supported the tradition but have since stopped now reside in Kipunguni, Ilala District in Dar es Salaam and have turned into advocates of anti-FGM practices.
These anti-FGM advocates have gone to the length of forming a group aimed at fighting for women and girl rights as well as ending violence against women and children. Speaking to The Citizen, Mr Selemani Bishagazi, who is the founder of the group said one of the reasons why some people took part in FGM was economic hardships.
Mr Bishangazi explained that presents amounting to about Sh2 million by members of the community to the family that had one of its girls undergo the cut, played a role in fuelling the ritual.
He says, he decided to mobilise people to find alternative ways of raising an income that surpassed the amount so as to show people that they can still make a good income outside the practice.
According to him, the initiative was started with support from the Tanzania Gender Networking Programme (TGNP) and Crossroads Foundation in introducing knowledge of practicing modern agriculture.
For her part, 42-year old Prisca Magesa confessed to have mutilated her 14-year-old daughter this year. She laments that she learned too late about the harmful practice, and that had she met members of the group earlier, she would not have put her daughter through the ordeal, but would have gone for agriculture instead.
Ms Magesa, who is a mother of two explained that she was attracted to cut her daughter so that she would overcome some of her financial woes, adding that many were falling prey to the practice because of that.
“During the event we’re given a lot of money by the visitors who take part in the celebrations, that’s why it is very easy to convince girls to undergo the act,” confessed Ms Magesa.
Last year she joined the Kipunguni group where she attained entrepreneurship training on modern agriculture practices.
She now owns her own farm in from which she gets an average of Sh 15,000 per day to sustain her household and does not see any reason why a girl should undergo the ordeal.
However, she says as one of the victims of FGM was still suffering until today from the psychological damage, including, but not limited to lack of self-esteem.
For his part, Zablon Monanko, popularly known as ‘Mzee wa Mila’ said if people were educated on alternative ways to earning decent incomes, FGM practices would be a thing of the past in Mara Region.
“During the ceremony, we receive a lot of money as presents and we consider it an honour, but what is unknown to us is the price that our daughters pay, it is huge,” Mr Monanko stressed.
“As matters stand, FGM practices have declined in our region. I’m optimistic it will in the near future remain history. This is evidenced by the number of people being educated on the matter and now that they have more alternative ways of earning a decent income,” he says.
According to the 2015/16 Tanzania’s Demographic and Health Survey and Malaria Indicator Survey (TDHS-MIS), countrywide, the rate of FGM practices have gone down to 10 per cent in 2016 from 15 per cent in 2010.
Based on the report, the decline is particularly notable among younger women aged 15 to 29.
Going by the 2016 TDHS-MIS survey, less than 1 per cent of girls under 15 were circumcised, since more than one quarter of women age 15-49 were circumcised by age 13 if not controlled it is very possible for such practice to be undertaken on young girls in the future.
According to the 2013 country profile on FGM, the practice affects both the physical and psychological health of girls, directly impacting negatively at their attendance and performance at school by up to 25 per cent.
This then infringes upon their right to equality, economic potential and security.
Girls often have lower literacy rates and are pressured into early marriage.
The victims become vulnerable to HIV/Aids transmission, and childbirth complications such as obstructed childbirth resulting in fistula, yet often have poor access to healthcare.
Education is a central issue in the elimination of FGM.
Lack of basic education is a root cause for perpetuating societal stigma surrounding FGM as they relate to health, sexuality and women’s rights.
FGM hinders girls’ ability to obtain basic education and prevents them from pursuing higher education and employment opportunities. This lack of education directly relates to issues surrounding child marriage.
Up-to-date evidence is required to understand the rationale for the practice and how it is changing in different communities, due to social dynamics and influences.
This data can then inform government policy and legislative change, enhance innovative programme design and implementation, improve monitoring of progress towards abandonment and sharing of good practice.