Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM) as a long standing practice by some tribes, clans or communities, has been largely attributed to traditional norms and expectations.
Although the procedures vary from one ethnic group to another, the common factor remains altering the female genitalia in a form of a ritual.
The reasons given to the practice of FGM vary from traditional and keeping to cultural values, social pressure, faith and beliefs, as well as a response to the wellbeing of the girl or woman.
However, it has been explicitly proven that female genital mutilation is a non-medical procedure, and furthermore, it causes serious health risks and damages – physically, psychologically and emotionally.
One other key factor and driver of FGM is the economy that surrounds the practice.
The interviews with former ngaribas (women who perform FGM/cutters) confirmed that they performed FGM as a source of livelihood, apart from the prestige that came with it.
“Whenever her grandmother, who was also a ngariba performed FGM, the families of the girls would bring her goats. When the goats had kids, my grandmother gave the kids to me. When they brought her chicken, we would sell them and get some money for our upkeep.” Hawa (Singida).
“Ngaribas also earn a living from this. We used to charge 30,000 Tanzanian shillings (Approx. 12 Euros) for every girl you cut. We also received sheep and chicken from the families,” said Namaiyani (Arusha)
Bibi Suzan is about 80 years old. In 2018 she was sent to prison for six months for performing FGM on girls. She spoke to Doris Mollel and explained how her life has been affected without an alternative source of income:
“When I came back home from prison, I found my house dilapidated from the heavy rains. I had to go and live at my child’s place. I don’t have anyone to help me rebuild my house and so I just live here. I used to depend on FGM as a source of income but now I don’t know what else to do.”
Both Hawa and Namaiyani have been able to substitute their careers with other income generating activities. Hawa is a local midwife and a small-holder farmer, while Namaiyani has her micro-enterprise making and selling bead-products.
As we have read in the previous episodes, girls who undergo FGM are prepared to become favorable wives; considered pure and loyal to their future husbands.
In the interviews, especially in Mara region, it was apparent that girls who had been cut could fetch more cows as bride-price compared to girls who were not cut.
FGM ceremonies also give room to extensive commerce and businesses. The cows that will be slaughtered to feed the people; the artefacts or items that are bought for the girls to represent the initiation rites; gifts, drinks and food will have to be provided for the celebrations; and so on. In Mara region, they refer to the FGM month as the “month of blessings” because of the amount of money spent and the businesses profiting from the ceremonies.
Kipunguni Knowledge Centre on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam is a local initiative by Selemani Bishagazi who sought to counter FGM and child marriage by creating alternative economic means. When Neema Ngelime, one of the five young activists, visited the institution she bore witness to the economic activities and knowledge sharing experiences.
Mzee Zablon, who is the traditional elder from Tarime in Mara region whom we met in the previous episode, provided land to the centre for free, to provide secure homes for the survivors and shelter for girls at risk of FGM. The Kipunguni community wanted to ensure that no girl was cut in their area.
All beneficiaries in the community had to commit to ending FGM and in turn they learnt new skills in farming, poultry and cattle keeping, as well as tailoring and business management.
Neema met with girls and women who were determined to break the cycle. She met with Upendo who is an FGM survivor. She narrated how her parents had bought land from the gifts they received at her FGM ceremony. Determined to break the cycle she took her younger sister to the police station to keep her from enduring the fate she went through. Upendo is now part of the Kipunguni community and she hopes that empowering women economically will also break the FGM cycle.
Salome is also an FGM survivor who was cut at a young age. She had considered cutting her daughters when they came of age but after attending Kipunguni Knowledge Centre and heard from other survivors and ex-cutters on the effects of FGM, she was convinced to stop.
Kipunguni Knoweldge Centre is an example of a community led initiative that understood the underlying economic factor driving the practice of FGM. They addressed this key factor and by 2018, they met their goal: No girl was cut in Kipunguni in 2018.
It is clear, there are many factors that perpetuate the practice of FGM, with the economic factor being one of the key drivers. The efforts of one man, Selemani Bishagazi brought together a community in ensuring that FGM was abolished and addressed for good.
In the next episode we will read of how individuals can make a difference.