Saturday, 21 March 2015

Obstetric fistula and Female Genital Mutilation

What is obstetric fistula?

An obstetric fistula is a hole that develops either between the rectum and the vagina (rectovaginal fistula), or between the bladder and the vagina (vesicovaginal fistula) and is caused by prolonged, obstructed labour during which the mother does not receive adequate treatment or care.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that approximately 2 million African women suffer from this condition, with 50 000 to 100 000 new cases developing every year.

The physical problems associated with this condition is a constant leakage of urine or faeces, or both, condemning the women to a lifetime of incontinence. The constant urinary incontinence often leads to skin infections, kidney disorders and even death if left untreated.

The sufferers are often ostracised by their families and communities because they smell and are constantly soaked in urine and/or faeces.

Compounding the problem is the fact that, in various Sub-Saharan countries such as Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Uganda, and Zambia, obstetric fistula is not considered a medical condition but rather a “punishment” for women being disloyal to their families, or as a divine punishment for carrying a venereal disease. 

These perceptions, along with the physical symptoms, mean many of the women live in isolation, poverty and shame.

The United Nations Population Fund says obstetric fistula is preventable and can be avoided by delaying the age of first pregnancy (by, for instance, ending the practice of child marriage); family planning to space births and providing emergency obstetric care to pregnant mothers.


Some victims of FGM also end up developing this condition when they get married early.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

The anti-FGM Campaign 2015

I have watched and listened with interest to the FGM campaign around the UK and the world. For me as a woman and a campaigner, it is wonderful that so many people are showing their concern. My concern though, is that we seem stuck at the same stage in our fight against this crime. It s important that those of us who care so passionately about this issue should understand the people we are trying to help. A friend made this very point recently, at a meeting at which we both spoke. If somebody of ,say, African or Middle Eastern origin, brought up in a European nation, would  be seen as an outsider when trying to gain the trust of these communities, imagine the difficulty faced by an indigenous European in the same situation.

We cannot take a one size fits all approach when there are so many different reasons why the practice continues;

·         Custom and tradition

·         Mistaken belief it is a religious requirement

·         Preservation of virginity/chastity

·         Social acceptance, especially for marriage

·         Hygiene and cleanliness

·         Increasing sexual pleasure for the male

·         Family honour

·         Enhancing fertility

·         A sense of belonging or the fear of social exclusion

·         Many women believe that FGM is necessary to ensure acceptance by their communities

It is often suggested that the practise exists in order to enhance male sexual pleasure,(although quite HOW, has never been explained by any man I know). Obviously thousands of years of male domination all over the world, make this seem to be an entirely logical premise. I don’t doubt that this is the case in some cultures but not all. In some cultures FMG is about female  empowerment,(almost like a rite of passage), and men have nothing to do with what’s going on.

In my opinion, all of those involved whether the UN or anti FGM charities, need to work closely with the communities they are trying to help, even empower women from these communities and give them the leading role. This is likely to give people time to think about the alternatives to initiation ceremonies that are part of some of these communities which might not involve cutting.

We must all understand that the surest way to alienate people is to patronise them. Work with the communities involved and let them take the lead, that’s the only way.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Female Genital Mutilation and the recent arrest of a Woman at Heathrow

The arrest of a Zimbabwean Woman at Heathrow (Woman Arrested for conspiracy to commit FGM, The Guardian, 6 February 2015)
Being an anti –FGM activist, born and raised in Zimbabwe, I thought I had to comment about the arrest at Heathrow.
I recently wrote about FGM in Zimbabwe on my blog,, it is clear from research and published work that
 Zimbabwe is not considered a serious culprit.
There are 4 types of Female genital Mutilation,
·         Type I      The clitoris or the hood of it is cut away.
·         Type II     The clitoris and inner labia are removed (FGM types I and II constitute 80% of female genital mutilation performed world-wide).
·         Type III    The clitoris, inner labia, and outer labia are cut away and the remaining skin is sewn or sealed together to cover the urinary opening and entrance to the vagina.
 This is the most extreme form of FGM, involving removal of almost two thirds of the female genitalia. Type III constitutes 15% of mutilations performed world-wide.

·         Type IV   All other harmful procedures, for example: pricking, piercing, incising, scraping, and cauterization
All available information suggests that type 4 is practised in Zimbabwe, but not by all tribes. All forms of FGM should end but we have to arrest the responsible people, as we should with any other crime.
We all want prosecutions on this heinous crime but all the evidence should point to the accused. Just being black and having an 8 year girl does not make a person guilty.

The CPS needs proper guidelines which will enable those involved to gather evidence without prejudice.
 Following the rightful acquittal of Dr Dhamarsen, lessons on how to go about prosecuting people should be learnt.
There has to be a better understanding of FGM by everybody, and the reasons why it continues to be practised, which are not the same In Zimbabwe for example, as they are in Sierra Leone, Nigeria or Kenya.
The UK has never had a successful prosecution unlike France and we should be asking ourselves why this is and learn from them. The French legal system might be the key to this as the inquisitorial system of justice seems less inclined to act, simply in order to be seen to be doing something.
More information can be found on my blog, my book- A lost youth by Abigal Muchecheti which can be found on Amazon and

Friday, 6 February 2015

Female Genital Mutilation and Prosecutions

Most people now realise that FGM is horrific and should be stopped. Recently different government agencies, activists , communities etc, have all been fighting to see an end to this evil practice.

Those of us working hard to raise awareness of the dangers of FGM to girls and women would want nothing more than some form of prosecution of the perpetrators of this vile practice.

Unfortunately, this is long overdue. I think more needs to be done. At the moment it seems to be all about having a person behind bars without actually having enough evidence. It doesn't work. As with all crimes , more resources are needed to try and capture the culprits red handed if possible.

As speaking out is seen as a betrayal by families and communities, there should be guidelines on how witnesses will be protected. People are still unaware of the help and protection that is available. It has to be remembered that in the UK , FGM practising communities stick together and would do whatever it takes to protect their interests.
Good evidence is what's needed for successful prosecutions and will only be achieved by working with communities.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Female Genital Mutilation - a Survivor story

As we continue with our campaign, here is a Survivor story,

Suzie * ( name has been changed) was only nine when her Grandmother attempted to subject her to Female Genital Mutilation.

I was 9 when my maternal grandmother visited us. Like any other children I thought it was just a normal visit. The following day nanny woke me early in the morning. She took me to the bathroom and said to me in a stern voice: "I am going to help you to become a proper woman. She then asked me to perform a procedure on myself every morning and she would come and check.

"But nanny...., ? "

"No questions, you do as you are told. We all have done it, your mother,my mother and every woman you see. If you don't, no man is going to be interested in you. I will check your progress in the weeks I am here till I am satisfied, she said.
She left the bathroom. I was scared. She told me if I did not do as I was told I would be in trouble.

I sat on the bathroom floor upset. Later I went to school as normal ,tempted to ask other girls but nanny had made me swear not to tell anybody.She told me it was every woman’s secret.

The following day she woke me again to go to the bathroom and made me perform and act on myself which was incredibly painful. I was dumbfounded. I swore I was not going to do it from that moment. I could not walk properly that day and missed school. For the next two weeks nanny woke me every day but I just sat on the bathroom floor dozing. I was relieved when she finally left.
I swore that as an adult I was going to look for answers, why should older women, women that are supposed to care and look after youabuse a child like this?

I still feel the pain of that day and the shock of what she put me through.
The physical, psychological impacts do not just disappear overnight – it leaves a legacy that stays with you.  For a while I hated men, I used what had happened to me to try and rationalise it – I thought why would I do all that for them?

“People need to speak out about FGM – There is help out there, this form of abuse on young women and children must stop – speak out.”


Saturday, 13 September 2014

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is not something people like to talk about. In fact, victims are actively discouraged from speaking out.

First, they’re forced into silence by the perpetrators, who by the very nature of the situation are ideally placed to monitor, control and strike terror into the minds of their victims.

Second, they’re not taken seriously by the police as many officers still view the attack on a woman’s bodily integrity by her partner to be a private matter. This attitude is enforced by the antiquated idea that the man is the head of his household and that he has authority over his wife and children.

Third, society as a whole would much rather judge the women (and men) trapped in this cycle of abuse than the men (and women) who commit these crimes.*

The levels of victim-blaming that domestic violence survivors face are mind boggling. Questioning the actions and sanity of the victims instead of the perpetrators makes up most of the existing dialogue on this topic.

“Why would she put up with this? Why doesn’t she just leave him? Why does she stay with him?” are the oft repeated questions that come up every time a horrific story of torture and abuse surfaces.

We seldom, if ever, hear people asking “Why is he doing this? Why doesn’t he seek help? Why doesn’t he leave her if she makes him so angry that he would resort to violence?”

Once again, as with rape and sexual violence, the onus of responsibility is placed squarely in the victim’s lap.

Because while there are a million reasons to leave an abusive relationship, people trapped inside them also see a million reasons to stay.

Don’t you think it’s about time we listened to those reasons, instead of immediately condemning people who act in situations that we know nothing about?

Because the facts are scary. A lot of women stay in abusive relationships because they are threatened with death if they leave. This is not an empty threat.

So maybe it’s time to start taking these stories seriously.

*Domestic violence happens to men and women and is perpetrated by men and women. Tragically, men rarely speak up about it because the patriarchal values of our society condemn and blame men who are victims. In this piece I’ve mostly used “men” as the perpetrators and “women” as the victims because of the much higher occurrence of violence against women.


Saturday, 5 April 2014

Does Zimbabwe practice Female genital Mutilation?

What is female genital mutilation?

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) involves the partial or total removal of a girl’s external genitals. FGM can take place when the girl is still a baby, during childhood, adolescence, at the time of marriage or during the first labour. It all depends on the ethnic group practicing it. FGM is sometimes called Female Genital Cutting (FGC) or Female Circumcision (FC) although it bears no resemblance to male circumcision.

What are the types of FGM?

·         Type I      The clitoris or the hood of it is cut away.

·         Type II     The clitoris and inner labia are removed (FGM types I and II constitute 80% of female genital mutilation performed world-wide).

·         Type III    The clitoris, inner labia, and outer labia are cut away and the remaining skin is sewn or sealed together to cover the urinary opening and entrance to the vagina. This is the most extreme form of FGM, involving removal of almost two thirds of the female genitalia. Type III constitutes 15% of mutilations performed world-wide.

·         Type IV   All other harmful procedures, for example: pricking, piercing, incising, scraping, and cauterization.

Country Profile

Zimbabwe has many different cultures which may include beliefs and ceremonies. Women make up for 52 percent of the population. Some parts of Zimbabwe and Southern Africa practices type IV.

Zimbabwean Demography

African 98% (Shona 82%, Ndebele 14%, other 2%), mixed and Asian 1%, white less than 1%


Initiation: Venda

The Domba is a pre-marital initiation, the last one in the life of a Venda girl. The chief or sovereign will 'call' a domba and preparations are made by the families for their girls to be ready and to prepare what’s necessary to attend the ceremony (entry fees for the ruler, clothes and bangles).

Historically girls used to stay with the chief for the whole duration (3 months to 3 years) of the initiation; nowadays because of schooling, girls only spend weekends at the ruler’s kraal.

This rite of passage was attended by both girls and boys after each individual had previously attended other separated initiations dedicated to one’s gender; Vhusha and Tshikanda for girls and Murundu for boys (the circumcision done during this rite has been introduced by Vhalemba). Since the missionaries decided that mixing males and females in the same ceremony was immoral.

Only girls attend the Domba which has two main functions teaching girls how to prepare themselves to become wives (birth planning, giving birth and child care, how to treat a husband, and nowadays the teaching of AIDS risks); and bringing fertility to the new generation of the tribe


Musevhetho is the initiation rite for girls that initiates a girl from a baby to the stage of puberty (i.e., before the girl starts menstruating) (Milubi, 2000). This rite is referred to as “u kwevha”, it involves elongation of the girls’ labia minora, which is sometimes called sungwi, and said to be equivalent to the murundu. Musevhetho initiation comes from the Bapedi tribe wherein the girl should perform the exercise of labia minora. The role of this initiation school among the Tsonga or Shangaan, according to Xitlhabana, cited in Milubi (2000), is referred to as “mileve” (i.e. sexual appetizer). This is said to harness men into a fulfilling relationship.

Women who have elongated labia minora are perceived and perceive themselves as having attained a higher level than those who have not. They perceive themselves as having an advantage of acquiring marriage and can sexually satisfy men better than those who have not elongated. Thus, those who have not elongated are always ridiculed by those who have elongated by calling them names such as shuvhuru, master-mistress and also through the usage of generic terminology (Milubi, 2000).

Reasons Given

  • It is the duty of women to keep men in monogamy marriages. If a man is not happy he can either leave or have more wives. However a woman can not enjoy such privilege. Often men are believed to leave or look for a mistress if they are not sexually satisfied. To try and help reduce this, women have to do all they can to make sure the man does not look elsewhere.
  • Having elongated clitoris and using powders is believed to increase sexual satisfaction. As a result of this women are taught at a very early stage (8 -12) to do everything possible in keeping their men happy. This then includes elongating or pulling their clitoris (Kutanya matinji) so as to give a man maximum sexual joy.
  • Mistaken belief that it is part of culture
  • Social Acceptance

Raising Girls

From the age of about seven or eight, girls start to help in the house, and in rural areas boys of that age begin to learn to herd livestock. Children are encouraged to take on adult tasks from an early age. This is when the girls are made to pull their clitoris in preparation for marriage.
Upon reaching puberty, aunts, grandmothers and mothers play an active role in ensuring that the girl child understands her sexuality and the implications it brings upon her life.

“Don’t play with boys” is a favourite phrase that characterizes the puberty stage, however the Shona culture is very conservative to the extent that sexual issues are not discussed openly. Even the pulling of clitoris by girls is not to be discussed openly.  It’s a family duty to make sure that custom is passed on to generations to come.  As a result the phrase becomes so confusing for girls who begin to treat their counterparts with a wary eye without full information on why they should do so.

Furthermore, as one grows up, biological instincts win the battle and the female enters into sexual relationships and there is always the ambivalent feeling that at one end it feels good to be in a relationship whilst at the other end one feels guilty because of culturally cultivated attitudes and norms.

Along the process a lot of mistakes do happen like unwanted pregnancies or forced abortions and society does not spare such women as they are labelled as ‘spoilt’.


Males are free to experiment sexually at will before marriage whilst females have to preserve their virginity for marriage or risk tarnishing the image of the family since the Son in law will not pay ‘mombe yechimanda’. This is a cow offered to the in-laws as a token of appreciation for ensuring that his wife preserved her virginity. This custom holds much value in the Shona culture and in some parts of the country.

Marriage is sacred and a married woman is treated with respect, in fact the desired destination of most Shona women is marriage. In marriage, the husband can have as many wives as he wants and can have extra-marital affairs as a bonus. When such a scenario happens, however, it is the wife who is blamed for failing to satisfy her husband or for failing to curb his desire to do so.


  • Although the procedure differs from type 1 -3 stated by the WHO above, the fact that this is expected of young girls, it is still child abuse and more needs to be done in raising awareness in parts of Southern Africa. These girls do not know what it is they are being asked to do. In addition, there is danger of infections, bleeding and bodily harm while they are doing this.
  • Mentally it is torture and therefore should be tackled the same way as other forms of female genital mutilation.

  • This type of female genital mutilation also does not add any medical value to a woman’s body.
  • Extensive damage of the external reproductive system

More has to be done in raising awareness of the harm of all the types of female genital tampering.( Types 1- 1V)
By Abigal Muchecheti