Genital Mutilation

Ugandan Physician-Lawmaker Moves to Criminalize FGM

Sunday, May 31, 2009

After 500 young women in Uganda endured genital mutilations in the most recent season for the initiation rite, a physician lawmaker here is optimistic about outlawing the practice this year and finding new income for traditional surgeons.

Ugandan MP Chris Baryomunsi

KAMAPALA, Uganda (WOMENSENEWS)--Earlier this month a member of Uganda's parliament introduced a bill to criminalize female genital mutilation, a traditional coming-of-age practice of cutting off all or part of a girl's clitoris. Though relatively rare in Uganda, the mutilation is still practiced by two ethnic communities in the eastern part of the country.

Chris Baryomunsi, a doctor elected to Parliament three years ago, says he has gained overwhelming support so far from male and female legislators throughout the country for the bill, receiving endorsements from members of many different backgrounds.

A key backer is the Parliament's deputy speaker Rebecca Kadaga, who has dedicated 2009 as the year to end female genital mutilation, also known as FGM, in Uganda.

Rukia Nadama, the state minister for gender and cultural affairs, has also endorsed the bill. She is working with leaders of the Sabiny and Pokot communities--where the majority of these rites are carried out--to educate them about the health risks associated with the cuttings, such as high rates of maternal and child mortality during childbirth, HIV transmission and the potential for these mutilations to cause fatal bleeding.

Baryomunsi expects the bill to win the two-thirds support needed for its passage and for it to become law by September or October of this year.

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Awareness Campaign

The Ugandan government launched an anti-FGM awareness campaign with the United Nations Population Fund in the mid-1990s, which used billboards, radio and school curricula to disseminate information about the practice.

But the country did not outlaw the practice.

"We haven't received any resistance so far or had anyone portray this in a negative light," said Baryomunsi in a recent interview with Women's eNews. "I am aware that if you don't do adequate mobilization it might go underground and people might do it in dark corners. But we'll intensify our education campaigns in the communities."

Although female mutilation appeared to be on the decline in Uganda, there was a sharp spike in 2008--among the Sabiny community in particular--that alarmed medical groups and women's advocates.

The Sabiny community performs the mutilations in December during even-number years. Its practice is among the most extreme, involving the removal of the entire labia.

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