These are the powerful words of Girls’ Rights Advocates member Ms Petrider Paul while speaking about the numerous challenges FGM activists face in Tanzania. In an interview with the ‘Daily News’ Ms Paul the use of the fight using laws alone amid the culture of silence surrounding the genital cut survivors won’t help stop the practices that continue to leave big and painful scars in the majority of women and girls in the country.
It is estimated that 7.9 million women and girls in Tanzania have undergone FGM (UNICEF, 2013). According to the Demographic Health Survey (DHS), the estimated prevalence of FGM in girls and women (15-49 years) is 14.6 per cent (DHS, 2010).
The overall rate has not changed from the 2004-05 DHS which recorded the same rate but has decreased by 3.3 per cent from 17.9 per cent in 1996 (DHS, 1996). Yet, 130 million girls and women alive today have been cut in some 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East, according to the UN.
If the practice persists, by 2030, another 86 million girls will experience some form of FGM. “There is need for the survivors to speak out how they are affected by the genital cut…that is when the communities practicing FGM will stop it,” says Ms Paul.
Working at the grassroots level in Tanzania to save girls from FGM practices, Ms Paul says big challenge face even the activities, authorities and others luring the laws that prohibits FGM in Tanzania as the survivors keep mum.
“Despite much support I receive from the Ministry of Health, Gender, Elderly, Women and Child on my advocacy work towards empowering girls to be free from FGM and Child Marriage it is the duty of a whole society to instill that change creating a new generation where girls rights are protected and respected so as to create a safe and secure environment for girls,” she says.
Ms Paul who started advocating to end FGM and girl child early marriage at 15, says many communities encompasses with FGC ignore the laws and continues practicing the acts under the traditional beliefs.
“But if the communities are informed of the consequences that survivors face, they would automatically drop the practices,” she says. “I started advocating to end Female Genital Mutilation while I was 15 years especially after my friend was forced into child marriage just after she underwent FGM,” she says. Through her intervention, over 40 girls have been rescued from undergoing FGC in the Kurya and Maasai Communities.
She points communities such as as Kurya in Mara and Masaai communities that practice FGM it under the wings of tradition and thus posing difficulties to harmonize use of laws against FGM in some of the communities “One of the challenges that I face as an activist is how to reach out to traditional leaders as they preferred to speak with a male gender than a female gender,” she says And adds
“Since our team had male representatives we adjusted accordingly however as an activist the challenges that I mostly saw repeatedly was the superstition beliefs that the people in the community often used to say that "one day you will wake up and find you have undergone FGM mysteriously,” she adds.
She notes that one of the community members in Mara region informed her however all did not work making her even stronger to keep advocating on girls’ rights issues as FGM.
FGM is a form of gender-based violence that most girls face shadowed by tradition, some girls are discriminated in the Kurya communities especially if they do not undergo Female Genital Mutilation while others are regarded not fit for marriage while Female Genital Mutilation poses greater risks to girls especially during giving birth.
The genital cut exposes girls and women to severe complications, including haemorrhage, tetanus, sepsis, urine retention, sexual dysfunction, and even death.
Traditionally FGM was often carried out as a rite of passage into womanhood, and linked to bride price, the trend among some ethnic groups (e.g. the Nyaturu, Gogo and Maasai) is towards cutting much younger girls, often newborn babies.
This reflects how the practice of FGM evolves to adapt to modern circumstances, including legislation and changing social perceptions. The DHS 2010 reports that the cutting of young girls is increasingly carried out at an earlier age, with girls cut before their first birthday increasing from 28.4 per cent in 2004-5, to 31.7 per cent in 2010.
This change may be attributable, at least in part, to the abrupt nature of attempts to abolish FGM which started in the 1970s following the Arusha declaration (President Nyere’s statement of Unjuuma, or brotherhood). This coincided with the emergence of lawalawa, a disease believed to be a curse from the ancestors, which could only be cured by FGM.
This disorder is in fact an easily treatable vaginal or urinary tract infection but became a pretext among the Nyaturu ethnic group under which to continue performing FGM, but now on babies and infants amidst much secrecy. The belief in the need to perform FGM to cure lawalawa (and other diseases) spread to Gogo and Maasai ethnic groups and persists to this day.