Disabled by Painful Customary Practice of FGM

Tears flow down her wrinkled face as she recalls the slow, painful death of her three sisters’ decades ago. Paralyzed and destitute, she curses the cruelty of an age-old custom that condemned her to a wheelchair while stealing her siblings.

54-year-old Judith Yamangusho knows she is lucky to be alive. She remembers the dreadful moment, 34 years ago, when she and her three sisters were led out of their home and subjected to the torturous female genital mutilation (FGM) exercise. They endured debilitating pain and deadly infections. Her sisters succumbed to excessive bleeding and deadly infection.

Today, she sits pensively on a stool under a tree in Kween town in the eastern part of Uganda, gently removing beans from the pods. A few meters away rests her wheelchair a constant companion and reminder of the dangers of FGM.

At the age of 20, Yamangusho and her sisters were taken into the bush to be circumcised with the promise that the practice would make them better women and good wives. This was not far from their family home in Tabakon village, Kapteret Sub-County in Kapchorwa district.

She recalls the screaming and kicking and the searing pain set in. Strong and bigger women pinned them down as the stone-faced traditional surgeon cut them using the same knife. She then proceeded to stitch their wounded genitals with thorns. She thereafter casually applied local herbs to the fresh wounds.

“Our legs were all tied up for days for the wounds to recover,” she tearfully narrated to Turkana Guardian.

The mother of six children survived the ordeal but her sisters died shortly after. Yamangusho bled profusely after the circumcision. The health complications forced her to drop out of school. When she finally recovered from the physical wounds, she was married off.

However, her emotional and mental wounds have never healed. Childbirth became a nightmare: “After delivering my last born, I started experiencing back pains and after the back pain my waist got paralysed to date,” she says.

Steven Nakitari, her husband supports his wife, having been enlightened about the evils of the practice by non-governmental organizations fighting FGM in the Sebei community.

Yamangusho only wishes the war against FGM began in her youthful days: “I wouldn’t have accepted it had I known the negative effects. I was not forced. I accepted after my parents told me to go since that was what all families were doing,” she says.

She does not blame her parents: “They could do nothing because they had culture at heart. They could not do much,” she argues.

The Inter African Committee Uganda (IACU) an NGO based in Kapchorwa and Reproductive, Educative and Community health (REACH) sensitize the public about the bad effects of FGM.
Yamangusho’s only prayer is that her community realizes the dangers of the practice and stops.

“They should look at the way I’m now. I didn’t want to be like this, but because of that kind of culture, I have been forced to be like this,” said Yamangusho.

In most FGM procedures, female genitals are partly or entirely removed or injured with the belief that it lowers woman’s sexual desires making them better wives. Most often the mutilation is performed before puberty, often on girls between the age of four and eight. Nevertheless, it is increasingly being performed on newly born babies.

The immediate consequences of FGM include severe pain and bleeding, shock, difficulty in passing urine, infections, injury to nearby genital tissue and sometimes death. The procedure can result in death through severe bleeding leading to shock as a result of pain and trauma and overwhelming infection.

In 2010, the Uganda Parliament passed a law against FGM, with convicted offenders facing 10 years imprisonment, or life sentence where death occurs.

FGM is common in the districts of Moroto particularly Tepeth Community, Pokot in Amudat and Sebei region in Kapchorwa, Kween and Bukwo districts.

According to the World Health Organizations (WHO) up to 150 million women are affected by FGM worldwide.

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