Improved access to water may help end female genital mutilation

KAMPALA — Could it be possible that if women in Africa had access to water, it could save them from undergoing the harmful practice of female genital mutilation (FGM)?

Inter Press Service

It seems that according to yet-to-be released research by Ugandan Gwada Okot Tao, FGM and other forms of circumcision in Africa could be linked to water.

Gwada, who conducted research among 20 ethnic groups across Africa, including Kenya, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Uganda, Ghana, and South Africa, says that ethnic communities that practice FGM in Africa can be found in areas where the water supply is problematic.

Gwada found that in Kenya, for example, only three of the East African nation’s 63 ethnic groups did not practice any form of circumcision. And these three communities were found in the Rift Valley region, where there are water bodies like lakes and rivers.

He believes that FGM has become a prevalent cultural practice as a consequence of a lack of water.

FGM involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

The practice, normally conducted by traditional surgeons, causes severe bleeding and is linked to many health issues, including cysts, infections, infertility as well as complications during childbirth.

It’s outlawed in many countries and the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution calling upon member states, civil society and all stakeholders to take concrete actions towards its elimination, yet the practice persists.

The UN predicts that some 86 million young girls worldwide are likely to undergo the procedure in one form or the other by 2030 if current trends continue.

Gwada was commissioned by a local consortium the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU) that sought to answer governance issues among communities that circumcise and those that don’t. In Kenya, communities that circumcise believe that those that don’t are not capable of leading and this has raised governance issues. Gwada admits he made the discovery by accident.

But he says it’s no surprise that intervention strategies to stop the practice aren’t working because the wrong policies have been employed.

“Everything is wrong, the policies are wrong, legislation is wrong because they were not informed by what made the communities start the practice in the first place,” Gwada tells IPS.

His research has not been made public, but was shared recently with selected stake holders ahead of release.

Caroline Sekyewa the programme coordinator of DanChurchAid, says the research finding is convincing because in the communities that practice FGM, a girl who has gone through the ritual is regarded as “clean”.

DanChurchAid is an international non-governmental organisation that runs education programmes in two communities that practice FGM in Uganda — the Pokot community in Karamoja region, northeastern Uganda and the Sabiny community, who are found on on the foothills of mountain Elgon.

“Its may not necessarily mean that the provision of water is the solution to FGM, largely because culture has hijacked the practice, but the this could inform the intervention strategies towards its elimination,” Sekyewa said.

She said the organisation will also target policymakers to provide water in the affected areas. In Pokot, a region where FGM is rampant, women walk several kilometres to fetch water and the situation is complicated with insecurity caused by armed cattle rustlers.

An underground water aquaffer has been discovered in the Turkana region on the other side of Kenya, which borders the Pokot. Sekyewa says such a water resource, shared by the border communities, could solve the problem.

Beatrice Chelangat is an ethnic Sabiny from Kapchorwa district of Uganda, close to Kenya’s Turkana region, who has defied the dictates of her FGM-practicing culture and is campaigning against it. Chelangat’s works with civil society organisation, REACH, which conducts sensitisation campaigns about the dangers of FGM.
“There is a common belief among the Dodoma community of Kenya that a woman can catch Candidiasis [yeast infection] and other forms of diseases if they are not cut,” Chelangat told IPS.

She says the research could be a new weapon in the fight against FGM.

Gwada agrees: “This new finding is going to compel a review of the understanding of the FGM procedures and intervention strategies including policies and legislation.”

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  1. So how does water or shortage of it promote practice of FGM? This research is highly subjective therefore highly speculative. Y would a national paper publish such gossip? Since Zim is part of the study, were there no findings in Zim or the findings were generic across all countries?

  2. @jack bauer, it appears that where there is lack of water, the number of times that people bath is reduced and for those women who are not circumcised, they certainly will produce an odour (bad smell). Circumcission then solves that problem. Its clearly not necessary to circumcise in regions where there is plenty of water since the women there can easily access water points and clean themselves. About 80% of women in Ethiopia are circumcised depending on the region, the numbers could be higher. The research is very important and if eventually published could help in those communities where circumcission is practiced. Gwada could have found a positive correlation between FGM and lack of water and that is a scientific finding which need reasons why there is such an association (reasons already given).

  3. I do think the first thing was to have the explanation on how this started. Linking it to water is not a clever option. This is an African culture and it sounds like this guy has it in his mind that African people do things that have no thought to it. And really a paper as NewsDay goes on to hive attention to such. Please

  4. I can’t understand why we are advocating for stoppage of female genital mutilation whilst at the same time encouraging male genital mutilation (circumcision)! Maybe I need to do robotic science to understand that!

  5. @K. Mutangi, your google reasearcher should know there is only one Dodoma community in Tanazania not Kenya. He/she should google more & know that water is a problem in East Africa but not part of the FGM equation. After FGM was declared illegal in all these countries, most girls are now cut soon after birth. The nonsense about odour is just that, nonsensical denigration of women. Y would an electoral NGO be concerning itself with FGM anywer? Just picture ZESN & FGM!! ‘about 80% of women in Euthopia are circumcised depending on the region’ whats that supposed to mean?!!

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