A programme launched by UN Women and Amref Health Tanzania to raise awareness of the dangers of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and to encourage the end of the practice has been making headway in the Mara region of north-western Tanzania.
Young women and girls have used the programme to seek refuge from FGM since its launch in Janurary 2016.
A safe house was built in Mugumu, Serengeti, in the Mara region to shelter and support girls, some as young as seven years old, and young women who had fled from their homes to avoid the dangerous procedure.
It also takes in girls running away to escape child marriage, domestic abuse and sexual assault.
As of November 2017, the safe house, built to accommodate 40 girls, shelters 76, with this number rising to over 300 girls during the high season every two years.
The FGM incidence rate in Mara is 32%, more than three times the national average, according to the Tanzania Demographic Health Survey 2015.
In December 2016, 5,621 girls in the Kurya tribe, the predominant indigenous tribe in Mara with the highest rates of FGM in the country, were registered for the practice, with 41% cut.
This is in comparison to December 2014, when 14,122 girls were registered and almost all were forced to have the procedure.
This 60% drop in numbers has been attributed to the training and awareness-raising sessions provided by the UN and Amref Health Africa.
Project Manager for Amref, Godfrey Matumu, say these measures have led to a greater understanding of the health consequences of FGM and to the support of village and local elders to stop the practice.
The programme encourages young women and girls to continue or return to education, which then has economic and social benefits for their tribe or local village when they return home as doctors, engineers and business-owners.
UN Women has partnered with other local communities to conduct similar advocacy campaigns, increase access to justice and resources for survivors of violence in any form, and improve the capability of services which handle reported cases of violence against women and girls.
They have collaborated with the highest authorities of the Inchugu clan in Tanzania and Kenya to prohibit the practice of FGM in their villages.
Chairperson of the Inchugu clan Masonoro Marwa is now advocating for more village elders and leaders of other clans to commit to the Declaration to End FGM in the region.
A students’ Anti-FGM club has also been set up at the Ngoreme Secondary School, three hours from Mugumu, whose 130 members meet weekly to discuss ways to prevent FGM in the region.
Their latest venture has been to stage a school play on FGM, to raise awareness of the dangers of the practice and demonstrate options for girls outside of child marriage, or marriage for dowry.
They also advocate the need for people to report families and circumcisers who carry out the practice to the police.
FGM is criminal offence in Tanzania since 1998 and carries a 15 year prison sentence and/or fine of up to US$223.
The high season for FGM comes after the December rains for every even numbered year, with girls as young as four years old registered with local clan leaders to undergo the cut.
Traditional leaders and village elders of the tribe consult the gods and traditional circumcisers called Ngaribas on the best dates to perform FGM on pubescent girls.
Regarded traditionally as a rite of passage into womanhood, the cut makes a girl eligible for marriage and promises a handsome dowry to sustain the extended family.
Many girls die from heavy blood loss or infection after the procedure and survivors hold the pain and trauma with them for the rest of their lives.
Mniko, a resident at the Mugumu safe house, said: ““It takes great courage to leave your entire world behind.
“Some of the younger girls here didn’t even know that it would be the last time they see their friends and families.
“They left thinking they could go back, but the families have rejected them.”
Hodan Addou, UN Women Representative in Tanzania, said: “We need to demystify and break the silence around FGM.
“It is an assault on the life and dignity of women and girls, a human rights violation.
“We are working with the Government of Tanzania and gender equality advocates for the prevention of FGM and other forms of violence against women and girls through the implementation of the National Plan of Action to End Violence Against Women and Children.”
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