KAPCHORWA DISTRICT, UGANDA –Judith Nakitari, Monica Chelimo and Betty Cheboi Akiki were the best of friends as teenagers. Growing up in the rural Kapchorwa district of Uganda, nearly 200 miles from the capital Kampala, the girls did everything together.
When they were 16, all three were forced by relatives and village elders to undergo female circumcision, or female genital mutilation as it more widely known now.
“At that time, there was no one to save you,” Nakitari says. “You had to get circumcised. Fathers would wait for their daughters with spears so that their daughters didn’t embarrass them, in case they cried or ran away.”
Nakitari, the only one of her childhood friends alive today, says they were all scared of the knife but they knew that it was a rite of passage and there was nothing they could do to avoid it. The night of their circumcision, the girls performed the rituals. They danced and sang. They promised not to reveal the secrets of the circumcision, namely the pain. Nakitari says their relatives watched as a crude knife was used to remove each clitoris and outer genitalia.
After the procedure, the girls were made to walk several miles to the location where they were supposed to be nursed by traditional healers. But the healers never came to care for the girls or monitor their wounds. To make matters worse, the girls parents did not adequately pay for the circumcision Nakitari says the circumciser, a local medicine woman, took a piece of each clitoris that she had cut, promising to bewitch the girls if their families never paid her for her service.
Today, more than 30 years later, Nakitari says they were cursed. All three women were plagued by physical and psychological complications throughout their lives.
Female genital mutilation, FGM, is defined as a nonmedical procedure that involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia. According to the World Health Organization, WHO, an estimated 130 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM. Another 92 million African girls, ages 0 to 10, have already undergone the cut.
Despite the increased awareness and international attention surrounding FGM, an estimated 3 million girls remain at risk of mutilation each year in Africa alone. Several countries, including Uganda, have enacted new laws to outlaw the common cultural practice. But FGM is still practiced in 28 countries in Africa, and a handful of countries in Asia and the Middle East. In Uganda, the Kapchorwa district, where Nakitari is from, is one of the districts where FGM is still practiced despite the new law signed by President Yoweri Museveni earlier this year that prohibits and criminalizes FGM. The law makes provisions to punish the offenders and protect the victims. But as circumcision season approaches, advocates are wondering just how effective the litigation will be in the country’s most rural areas.
The Physical and the Psychological: Post-Circumcision Consequences
Nakitari says her wound eventually healed, but she has had life long numbness in the area. Just one year after