FGM in Tanzania: A Violation of Women and Girls’ Rights

By: Macy Janine Pamaranglas – Art in Tanzania Intern

What is FGM?

Female genital mutilation (FGM) refers to a procedure of removing a female’s external genitalia either partially or completely; it can also be any other form of injury to the female’s genitals. However, studies have shown that FGM has no particular health benefits. Instead, FGM is performed mainly due to tradition, rite of passage, and preparation for marriage.

It has been proven that FGM can lead to “severe bleeding”, problems with urination, “later cysts”, “infections”, and “complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths”. Hence, the World Health Organization (WHO) is an advocate of anti-FGM because this practice is not only extremely harmful for the health of women and girls, but it is also an international human rights violation.

In fact, more than 200 million women and girls have undergone FGM, and they are from countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Tanzania is no exception to such a hostile procedure.

allAfrica.com (source)

FGM in Tanzania

According to UNICEF, there are approximately 7.9 million Tanzanian women and girls who have had their genitalia mutilated. FGM is significantly observed (20% to 70%) in the regions of Arusha, Dodoma, Kilimanjaro, Manyara, Mara and Singida. In Tanzania, FGM is considered a religious and traditional norm rather than a medical practice. But, there was an emergence of an illness called, lawalawa. The latter is said to be a “curse from the ancestors”, and FGM was the “only way” to heal from such a curse. With scientific and medical innovation, this so-called “disease” is simply an “easily treatable vaginal or urinary tract infection”. Yet, ethnic groups such as the Nyaturu ethnic group, Gogo and Maasai ethnic groups continue to perform FGM even in secrecy.

28 Too Many (source)

In 1998, Tanzania officially declared FGM as an illegal act by enacting the Sexual Offences (Special Provision) Act 1998. This act aims to “protect the dignity and integrity of women in matters pertaining to rape, defilement, sordomy, sexual harassment, incest, female genital mutilation, child abuse and child trafficking.” The Tanzanian Government also adopted a “National Plan of Action to end Violence against Women and Children” to terminate all forms of violence against women and girls. Despite the laws adopted to end FGM, a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation cannot be halted immediately. For instance, ethnic leaders pretend to stop executing FGM on young girls, but they organize “alternative rite of passage festivals” as a disguise to perform FGM.

Furthermore, there are cases where FGM is “medicalized” by involving health care providers. This way, it is seen to be “safer”. However, the WHO is against the “medicalization” of FGM since health care providers themselves are “members of FGM-practicing communities and are subject to the same social norms”.

Unfortunately, eliminating FGM is challenging since politicians often support this practice or remain silent in order to win electoral votes among particular ethnic groups (i.e. Maasai group).

Efforts and Recommendations to end FGM

Former Miss Tanzania, Diana Lukumai, founded a non-governmental organization called, Cut Alert Foundation, in which she aims to have Tanzanian communities invest in educating young girls instead of making them marriageable.

DW The 77 Percent (source)

Human rights activist, Rhobi Samwelly, manages two safe houses for girls who suffer from FGM, gender-based violence, child marriages, and rape. Moreover, a humanitarian mapping, Crowd2Map, is being developed to protect children at risk as well as to promote community development. In spite of the technological advancement, rural Tanzanian areas remain poorly mapped. So, in collaboration between international and local volunteers, Crowd2Map has added schools, hospitals, roads, buildings, and villages. Eventually, human rights activists like Samwelly can find the villages where girls are at risk of FGM.

Crowd2Map.com (source)

The WHO reinforces its efforts to end FGM by “strengthening the health sector response” (i.e. development and implementation of tools to ensure that girls are being provided with medical care), “building evidence” (i.e. being informed about the causes and effects of FGM), and “increasing advocacy” (i.e. generating publications to raise awareness internationally and locally about the hostility of FGM).

Conclusion

FGM is a non-medical practice which needs to be eradicated since it harms the physical and psychological health of women and girls, and it is also a violation international human rights. Young girls should not be forced to undergo such a procedure by any person, even if it is their family members. Again, FGM can potentially lead to long-term problems such as increasing rates of child marriage, and it can even be a financial burden to countries since the treatment of FGM complications is very costly (a total of 1.4 billion dollars in 2018).

Sources

Crowd2Map. Tanzania Development Trust. (2022, January 21). Retrieved October 24, 2022, from https://tanzdevtrust.org/crowd2map/

Mugumu Safe House for girls. Tanzania Development Trust. (2022, March 2). Retrieved October 24, 2022, from https://tanzdevtrust.org/projects-2/mugumu-safe-house-for-girls/

OHCHR. (n.d.). United Nations Study on Violence against Children Response to questionnaire received from the Government of the United Republic of TANZANIA . Retrieved October 24, 2022, from https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/Documents/HRBodies/CRC/StudyViolenceChildren/Responses/United%20Republic%20of%20Tanzania.pdf

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (2013). Country profile: FGM in Tanzania. Refworld. Retrieved October 24, 2022, from https://www.refworld.org/docid/54bce4b44.html

World Health Organization. (2022, January 21). Female genital mutilation. World Health Organization. Retrieved October 24, 2022, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/female-genital-mutilation#:~:text=Female%20genital%20mutilation%20(FGM)%20involves,benefits%20for%20girls%20and%20women.

World Health Organization. (n.d.). Rooting out female genital mutilation in Tanzania. World Health Organization. Retrieved October 24, 2022, from https://www.afro.who.int/news/rooting-out-female-genital-mutilation-tanzania#:~:text=Tanzania%20criminalized%20female%20genital%20mutilation,female%20genital%20mutilation%2C%20by%202030. YouTube. (2020, October 12). Former Beauty Queen fights FGM in Tanzania. YouTube. Retrieved October 24, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ynho1vJon7o

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