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

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Oxford City at Risk of female genital mutilation

OXFORD is a high risk area for the illegal practice of female genital mutilation (FGM).


More needs to be done to raise awareness about the issue and get victims to report it.

It is considered normal but it is really horrific and unnecessary. It does not add any value to anyone’s life. It is child abuse.

It is not something we want in the 21st century. It has to stop.

How we can all help girls:young women at risk

Knowing who has been mutilated or is at risk is often difficult, because:

• it happens only once

• parents may believe FGM is a good thing to do for their daughters

• the genitalia of girls are rarely examined

• it is not culturally acceptable for girls to talk openly about FGM.

But remember there is a risk if:

• the girl’s mother or her older sisters have been cut

• the mother has limited contact with people outside of her family

• the paternal grandmother is very influential within the family

• the mother has poor access to information about FGM

• no one talks to the mother about FGM

• health, social service and education staff fail to respond appropriately

• communities are given the impression that FGM is not taken seriously by the statutory sector.           

What you can do:

·        Talk to your pupils

  • Observe and note any changes in behaviour
  • Know your facts

FGM has nothing to do with culture or religion.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Female genital mutilation and clinicians

Awareness of FGM and its consequences should be increased amongst staff working in all service areas as women who have undergone the procedure are likely to present in a range of services.

  • Training should be specifically focused to the subject of FGM. The training encountered so far appears to have been adjunct to training in other areas, such as child protection. As a result little time is dedicated to the topic. Training should provide a background to FGM, with information about the reasons for the practice and the contexts within which it occurs as well as raising awareness of the range of views that may be present in communities/families. It should highlight the range of ways in which FGM can impact upon a woman‟s life and encourage professionals to take a holistic approach to working with clients. Furthermore, training should help professionals to feel confident in sensitively raising the topic of FGM with clients and explore ways of talking about it.


  • In order to address the training needs described above a formal training package is needed. This should involve service users and circumcised women in its development. The importance of this can be seen in the current research where women have provided invaluable information about how professionals can provide better services for women who have experienced this practice.


  • Professionals working with women who have experienced FGM should be offered support in managing their personal responses to the stories they hear within their clinical work. Awareness amongst those who supervise others is therefore crucial. This further highlights the need for all clinicians to be informed about FGM, not only those who might be working directly with the issue.


  • Clinical psychologists should involve themselves in working with communities within which FGM is commonly practiced. This work should aim to reduce barriers to psychological therapy through increasing knowledge about what services are available, by addressing issues of stigma associated with seeking help from mental health professionals and by ensuring that the language needs of clients are met.


  • Whilst the current research only interviewed English speaking participants training interpreters about FGM would be important as many women who have undergone the procedure would require an interpreter during clinical sessions.


  • Clinical psychologists using interpreters with clients referred for FGM related difficulties should consider the gender of interpreters and their cultural background and consider the impact this might have on the client. They should also brief and debrief interpreters prior to and following sessions and consider that the interpreter themselves might have undergone FGM.

FGM needs tackling on all levels and at the end of the day we all want the same-to end this evil practice.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

The Psychological impacts of female genital mutilation

There is need for careful exploration of the emotional and psychological impact of FGM and that the lack of this might be associated with cultural prohibition, whereby women are forbidden from discussing concerns regarding their sexuality.


Despite the lack of data related to the psychological impact of female circumcision, psychosomatic and mental health problems have been observed. These include mood and thought disturbances, sleeplessness, recurring nightmares, loss of appetite and panic attacks. Further researches shows emotional trauma, depression, anxiety, psychosis, fear of sexual relations, chronic irritability, hallucinations and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)


Some women reported that symptoms of PTSD became apparent immediately following the procedure whilst others experienced psychological symptoms at various stages throughout their life.

Lockhat conducted qualitative interviews and focus groups with women who had undergone FGM. She found that less than one tenth of women were experiencing “current PTSD” that is ongoing symptoms at a clinical level, and over a quarter were suffering from “lifetime PTSD” (clinical levels of PTSD experienced at some point during their lifetime). Predictors of psychological trauma were reported to be women’s appraisal of their experience (negative appraisals were associated with trauma) and how they felt they had coped with the experience of circumcision (e.g. what coping strategies they had employed).


It has been suggested that not being circumcised in certain communities can have a greater psychological impact than the trauma caused by circumcision itself, often as a result of the stigma and potential to be ostracised.

Female genital Mutilation has massive psychological impacts on the victims and the sad part is these women might never have professional help.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Ways to help end female genital mutilation: simple but effective

There is a lot of assumption by professionals involved in dealing with female genital mutilation. In my view, the difficult goal of raising awareness and changing mind sets, should begin by working from bottom to top not vice versa. With FGM, people need to get involved with communities and gain trust before anything else. This then will enable people to feel comfortable to walk in or contact the NHS / CPS, the police or any other source of help that they might need.

Furthermore professionals can sometimes forget that FGM is a broad subject and an understanding of one aspect of it does not solve the problem. In-depth understanding of people and their beliefs is crucial and working to this fit in with our campaign is what will bring about real change.

Working with the community

Community leaders, religious leaders, church elders from FGM practising communities will play a key role in changing mindsets. People do not want to feel as if they are being attacked and are likely to”stone wall” apparent interference. Few victims, I think, would have the confidence or even the desire to walk into their local NHS centre and say they were mutilated , particularly given they will have been misled into believing that the practise is a necessary part of their culture, rather than plain abuse.

Educating Frontliners

Educating the victims and making them aware of what it is we are trying to stop( Schools and Teacher training for example. There are still some teachers who are unclear about FGM, and would presumably find it difficult to identify a child that might be at risk, or has been taken for cutting/mutilation)


Raising Awareness

Raising awareness is the starting point. More grass root work needs to be done with communities.
This could be done by:

  • Using the local radio stations
  • Different womens discussion groups and talks
  • Sharing information with different members of the communities
  • Visiting schools (sex education and talk about FGM)
  • Plays, dramatising(visual is better than reading)
  • Local news and television

  • Teachers, the police and other frontline staff
The ending female genital mutilation war has to be fought on all fronts.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

The dilemma female genital mutilation among victims

Female genital mutilation makes a permanent mark on the victims, physically, mentally, sexually and psychologically. In most cases (Type 1 and 11 as well as infibulations) the girls are taken away to be mutilated without knowing. The practice, done in secrecy does not leave any of the victims free to talk to others. All they are told is, “This is what a woman has to endure. You have to do this because every woman does it’’. Victims are given no choice but swear to secrecy before and after the procedure. In my case I only got to hear people talk about female circumcision in high school. It was clear that female genital mutilation and talking about it was going to cause grief. A few girls had not gone through the procedure and the rest had. Those who had not done the procedure felt as if they had destroyed their lives and chances of getting married. It seemed as if they would be feeling ostracised for the rest of their lives since not having gone through circumcision was regarded as a failure and would result in the girls not securing a husband. It has to be remembered that in many African communities marriage is one of the most important things in a woman’s life. Failure to secure a husband has always been considered to bring shame to families. For the girls there is pressure is every where- from the family, society and friends. The pressure and trauma resulting from this led to some of the girls loosing their self esteem. There were divisions as those who had had the procedure felt like the heroines. This was just a pressure uncalled for and made some girls stay away from normal day to day activities. Shame and being made to feel inferior also affected some of the girls. Being one of those girls I was not sure I had done the right thing. I had ignored my grandmother‘s call for me to pull my clitoris.

The point I am making is that sometimes in communities and households, the pressure to do what everyone else is doing can be huge. People get scared of being shunned and would always want to be part of a group.

However with FGM it should not be so. FGM is child and women abuse and should not be seen as a social identification. It is a shame that some older women in some parts of Africa have had to be infibulated well into adulthood because an aunt or mother in law felt it was wrong not to have done it.


Saturday, 4 January 2014

Female Genital Mutilation: The fight carries on!

In Africa, where FGM is most common, there is disagreement about the best approach to curtail the practice. Some countries have attempted community-based education as the best long-term strategy.


 In Senegal, where Parliament banned FGM in January 1999, there are mixed feelings. Some communities were beginning to make inroads with a health education campaign, then the national law criminalized up to 2 million citizens and Kenya recognized the ritual aspect of FGM and developed an alternative rite of passage for girls of circumcision age.


In the Tharaka Nithi district of Kenya, new festivals have been organized for the months of August through December, when circumcision would usually be performed. During a week of seclusion, girls in the alternative program are educated on a wide range of subjects, including personal hygiene, relationships, dating and courtship, and marriage.


The program also covers topics such as peer pressure, male and female reproductive anatomy, menstruation, conception and prevention of pregnancy, the consequences of teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV and AIDS, and ways to prevent exposure. Positive aspects of tribal culture are taught, such as self esteem, decision making, and respect for elders.


Tanzania adopted a program for initiation without mutilation in 1998. Girls age 10 to 13 receive instruction in domestic chores, midwifery, hygiene, sex and pregnancy over a two-week period. For the initiation ritual, the girls are beautifully dressed and participate in a ceremony where they demonstrate their readiness to receive instructions in womanhood. The whole village joins in drumming, singing, dancing and feasting to celebrate the new phase of the girls' development. The Inter-African Committee urged all African countries to develop initiation without mutilation.


A few physicians and circumcisers have been indicted for performing FGM in Ghana and Egypt, usually in cases where the young woman has bled to death, but prosecutions are very rare. In Guinea, the penalty for FGM is death, but the sentence has never been applied. Many Africans are unaware of the health risks and aid workers see a focus on health education as the best avenue for change.


Many cultures that accept FGM are Islamic, and Islam has been seen as being tied to FGM because of its insistence on virginity before marriage, a practice which circumcision is supposed to insure. However, this common belief has been challenged by Islamic scholars. Other faiths that have supported FGM include Coptic Christianity as practiced in Egypt; Orthodox and Ethiopian Jews; and the Falashas, a group of Ethiopians Jews who live in Israel.

An estimated 137 million women in at least 28 African countries have undergone circumcision. Africans point out that most circumcisers are women. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 168,000 females in the United States are at risk for having FGM performed. The CDC places the highest risk on African immigrant women living in large metropolitan areas. This is a worldwide disaster and we all ought to be involved in the fight.


Female genital mutilation is laden with many intercultural taboos. When African leaders were fighting against British colonialism during the 1980s, the male leaders defended FGM as a private matter and accused feminists who opposed FGM of "cultural imperialism." However, some African women who desire change counter that "culture is not torture." Africans point to Western practices such as bulimia, anorexia, liposuction, silicone breast implants, repeated facelifts-all in pursuit of idealized feminine beauty-and ask how Westerners can sit in judgment of Africans.

However the fact remains there is no need to mutilate girls and women. FGM has no medical value but only destroys lives. The fight against this horrific practice will carry on until the battle is won.