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