Female Genital Mutilation still a big problem in some of Zimbabwe's rural communities

By Faith N Tori

A Binga woman died after she had her genitals   mutilated in the hope that she would conceive .The deceased’s grandmother inlaw performed the procedure at her home in Siachilaba (Binga) using a razor blade. 

The deceased, Miriam Mupande, ( not her real name) sought medical help following excessive bleeding from the cut, but died three days after being discharged from a medical facility, due to fatal blood loss.

Binga is one of the least developed districts in the country with little or no access to medical facilities for many families making traditional and unscientifically tested means of healing very common. Most of Binga’s areas remain inaccessible by road, resulting in its habitants being unable to get the best medical care possible when in need. 

 

As in many such cases , Mrs Mupande’s death came and passed without much notice. The media did not cover it extensively. To date no law has been enacted to deter those who perform such procedures which have led to the deaths of many vulnerable women and girls.

When the government of Burkina Faso passed a law prohibiting female genital cutting in 1996 it launched a public education campaign to make the law effective . It added the topic to the school curriculum and opened a telephone helpline for girls at risk. As a result Plan International reported that the number of convictions related to the practice had gone up and public support for female genital cutting had fallen. 

Zimbabwe’s laws are currently silent on how to protect women and girls against female genital mutilation practices which  are  common cultural practice in many remote districts. 

It is common practice in some remote parts, for self  -proclaimed “midwives” especially elderly women who are normally tasked by communities as midwives to also extend their services to the circumcision of women and virginal testing of girls. Believed to deal with infertility and other reproductive problems, women and girls’ external genitalia are cut off using sharp blades to get rid of any feeling or sensation from those areas. 

Female genital mutilation , usually carried out for non –medical reasons and with no health benefits , is little talked about in Zimbabwe but reportedly goes on in communities where it is widespread. This includes the controversial practice of elongation of the labia.

In many communities in Zimbabwe, the practice has been taken religiously prompting many women and girls to be initiated into the cultural practice as a way to salvation or moral uprightness.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Female genital mutilation encompasses all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs, whether for cultural or other therapeutic reasons (WHO 1995)

The female external genital organ consists of the vulva, which has the labia majora, labia minora, and the clitoris covered by its hood in front of the urinary and vaginal openings.

Tapelo Mleya(16) from Binga, Katete area confirms that in their culture genital mutilation is a common practice.

“l  was 15 when my genitals were mutilated. The exercise was painful as l was not able to walk to school for days because l felt so much pain. The most painful parts was when l would attempt to go to the toilet” she recalls shedding tears.

“They use a razor blade to cut parts of the genitals, and it is done by elderly women who have experience in it because if not properly done it might lead to permanent  disfigurement,” she adds.

A female circumciser who identified herself as Gogo Mudenda said;

“When you cut a girl’s genitals, you know she will remain pure until she gets married and after marriage she will be faithful. But when you leave a girl uncut ,she will sleep around with any man in the community.”

Sexual Morality Internship for Life Empowerment Organisation (SMILE) programmer, Tinotenda Mangombe, highlighted that female genital  mutilation practice should not be condoned as it exposes young women and girls to sexually transmitted and other infections.

“Female Genital Mutilation practices should never be allowed and perpetrators should be arrested because it exposes women and girls to infections. Take for instance a case in point ,when an elderly women uses one razor blade to circumcise hundreds of girls.”

“Sexually Transmitted Infections are passed from one person to another, when the same razor blade is used on several people,” said Tinotenda Mangombe.

According to UNICEF about 140 million women and girls have undergone Female Genital Mutilation worldwide and a further 2 million girls are at risk of undergoing the procedure.

Zimbabwe’s Constitution has several important constitutional provisions on gender. Section 80(3)outlaws laws, customs, traditions and cultural practices that infringe upon the rights of women. Zimbabwe is also a signatory to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women which in Article 2 obliges a State Party to take all appropriate measures to abolish customs and practices and repeal penal provisions which constitute discrimination against women. 

However, even a good constitution may fail if unknown by its citizens and when the legal framework does not support the full realisation of such provisions. Thus with no deterrent sentences for  those who practice FGM the practice will continue. Similarly with less education and health facilities near enough for citizens to medical help from, traditional midwives and “surgeons” will remain the only hope for poor communities like the Tonga in Binga to turn to.