THE battle against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Tanzania is not an easy task, but Ms Rhobi Samweli believes the fight continues as she continues to rescue girls from undergoing the harmful practice.
Ms Rhobi is the founder of Hope for Girls and Women Tanzania (HGWT), a registered non- governmental organisation (NGO) that is committed to ending FGM in Mara region.
She founded the NGO in 2017, and so far it has managed to save nearly 400 girls from undergoing FGM, thanks to all partners supporting Rhobi’s initiative.
Last week, Ms Rhobi was motivated to save many more girls after her NGO won an award for making significant progress in the battle against FGM.
The award was presented to Ms Rhobi by Mr Charlie Stuart, the outgoing Acting Head of Delegation of European Union during an event held in Dar es Salaam to recognise efforts being done to stop FGM in Tanzania.
The award was jointly provided by EU, Canadian Embassy in Tanzania, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and ICPD. “This award is a big motivation, and it encourages us as an NGO to save the girl child from FGM,” Ms Rhobi said shortly after receiving the award.
The event was attended by government officials, ambassadors from several foreign countries, including Canada, UK, Switzerland, Italy and Ireland.
Present were also representatives from other international and local development partners working together with the government of Tanzania to stop FGM.
Hope for Girls and Women Tanzania is among several local organisations that received FGM's battle recognition awards during the event. Other organisations that received a similar award are ATFGM Masanga, NFGEM, HIM, Kipunguni and ESTL.
The award was also given to police officers working at the gender and children desk units who have made great achievements in saving girls from undergoing forced FGM.
Rhobi has been fighting FGM in Mara region for many years, even before she founded the NGO. “As an activist and an individual, I have saved over 1,300 girls from undergoing FGM in various parts of Mara region since 2011 when I started to engage in anti- FGM campaigns,” she pointed out.
In April this year, Rhobi was also declared the overall winner for the 2019 Clouds TV Malkia wa Nguvu honorary award during another colourful event held in Dar es salaam following her anti- FGM campaigns.
Rhobi says she does not want to see girls in Mara region continue to experience the pain and discomfort she went through when she was forced to undergo FGM many years ago.
Besides the pain that girls are subjected to, both during and after the cut, FGM is also cited to be the source of child marriage in the region.
Once a girl is circumcised, she is considered as a grown up woman to be married, with some parents exchanging them with dowry that is given in the form of cows.
Having a large number cows is still perceived as a sign of wealth among the communities living in the region. “It is evident that FGM remains one of the major sources of child marriages in our region,” Rhobi says.
There are reports that several hundreds of girls are at a risk of undergoing FGM in the region come December this year.
In order to save some of those girls, Hope for Girls and Women Tanzania will this month (September) embark on fresh anti- FGM sensitisation campaigns targeting two districts of Butiama and Serengeti.
The six- month campaign, Rhobi says, is supported by the Canadian Embassy in Tanzania. “We are well prepared to start the sensitisation campaign that will reach school children and other key stakeholders like police children and gender desks, community development officers,” she explained.
Hope for Girls and Women NGO also runs two FGM rescue centres that saved about 400 girls from undergoing FGM between 2017 and 2018.
The centres shelter and take care of girls fleeing forced FGM acts during FGM seasons. In Mara region, FGM seasons are normally conducted in December when school children are at home for end of the year holidays.
She named them as centres as Butiama Safe House and Hope Mugumu Safe House. Rhobi says her NGO has also been going around airing a film that showcases the harmful effects of FGM and how today girls do not like to go through the practice.
“The film tilted ‘In the name of your daughter’ has made it possible for voices of the girls to be heard, saying they do not like the FGM culture,” she pointed out.
“We have been showing the film since 2018 and have reached 22 primary schools, and this work continues to other schools,” she said.
The NGO also continues to sensitise communities in Mara region to stop FGM practices through several means, including traditional dance groups and artists.
“I call upon Mara communities to invest on education of our children and do away with FGM and child marriages,” she said.
Apart from the Canadian Embassy, other partners supporting anti- FGM campaigns in Mara region through Hope for Girls and Women Tanzania are UNFPA, Grumeti Reserves, Four Seasons and the UK based- Tanzania Development Trust.