Working together to stop FGM, a harmful rite of passage

Sexual and reproductive health are fundamental human rights and vital to a healthy society. Young people, and especially young women, are particularly vulnerable to the consequences of poor services and support in making positive personal choices. 

Amref has been working alongside the local population in Meatu district, a remote region in northern Tanzania, to help communities find an alternative to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), and open up the door for young people to access sexual health services and knowledge of their rights. 

The practice of FGM as a rite of passage into adulthood for young girls has been a normal part of growing up in Meatu for years. Not only is the procedure physically painful, it can cause serious health problems for women as they develop into adults and mothers.

Urinary complications, fistula, pain during sex, and severe, sometimes life-threatening complications in labour and childbirth, are all common effects of FGM. But as a tradition the practice has deep rooted social implications: a sign of a preservation of chastity, of hygiene and cleanliness, increased sexual pleasure for men and a sense of belonging to the community. 

In Meatu and other regions where FGM is widely practiced, it’s difficult for girls to say ‘no’. They are often stigmatised, shamed and even excluded from their families. Amref’s Afya kwa vijana project met with people across several levels within the community, from district council leaders to community members and leaders of the local Taturu tribe to open up a dialogue on FGM - and the dangers it can cause. 
The project, supported by Big Lottery Fund and law firm Allen and Overy, aimed to deconstruct the myths surrounding FGM and to create an environment where this practice could become a thing of the past. Measuring the outcomes of such a project can be challenging. But the Afya kwa vijana team have already had some real success stories. In fact, after one community meeting set up by the project, it was a local chairman who himself prevented a young girl from undergoing FGM. 
His own daughter. 
Coming home from a meeting with local leaders, Mazoya Jisenga, carried on the discussion about FGM with other members at his home with his wife and family. His wife told him she had in fact been planning to take their daughter for the procedure the next day. After talking with her and other family members, including the girl herself, the mother agreed to cancel the planned procedure. Two months later the team visited the family, without specifying when they’d be back, to check on the girl. She was still uncut and the family had been convinced to abandon FGM altogether. 
“I thank you guys for opening our eyes and minds,” said Mazoya. “It is my hope that all the Taturu in this village will take my family as a role model towards abandoning FGM. On top of that, I have already called two community meetings with my people where FGM was an agenda for discussion and will keep doing the same until we get rid of the practice in our area.”

You can read more about our Sexual Reproductive Health & Rights work across sub-Saharan Africa, here.