Thursday, May 15, 2014

Building safer communities by Ending Female Genital Mutilation

This is a guest post by Michael Ahabwe Mugerwa, the Founder and Executive Director of the ICOD Action Network

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. FGM, which is often carried out with unsterilized instruments, can cause severe health and psychological problems and in some cases, girls bleed to death or die from infections. Later in life, FGM can lead to complications in childbirth and increase the risk of the mother and baby dying. Despite national and international legal frameworks condemning the practice, FGM is still practiced in 28 countries in Africa.

Some of the girls who fled home, are now living at a school
Image (c) Michael Ahabwe Mugerwa
In East Africa, Female Genital Mutilation is practiced by several tribes despite recently passed legislation against it in East Africa Community member States.   Hundreds of infants, girls and women are still being forced to undergo Female Genital Mutilation every month and perpetuators are rarely prosecuted. Local political leaders fear to publicly condemn the practice for fear of losing elections and in some cases they have helped offenders escape being prosecuted in Courts of Law.  In Kenya, according to the most recent Demographic Health Survey (DHS), the estimated prevalence of FGM in girls and women (aged 15-49 years) is 27.1%.

Promoters of the practice argue that FGM initiates girls into womanhood and increases their chances of being married. Our interactions with communities show that FGM has led to increased child marriages when girls between 8 and 17 are cut. Some of the girls we talked to had been forced to undergo Female Genital Mutilation, developed fistula and were forcibly married off by their parents in exchange of cows. Some of the girls pass out urine uncontrollably and require collective surgery to fix fistula. We working very hard to make sure we respond to this as soon as possible. We are working with local grassroots organizations to identify those who needs surgery, we hope we can raise some funds to pay for the costs needed for surgery and follow up visits to the doctor.

Inspiration for our work
Since April 15, our small team of 6 has been filming a documentary film to expose the dangers of Female Genital Mutilation and work with communities to end and support victims. We are excited by the prospect of raising awareness about Female Genital Mutilation and inspire more people to join us to end Female Genital Mutilation and other forms of violence against women.   We know ending this kind of abuse and violence against girls and women won’t be easy, that's why we are reaching as many people as we can so we can  heal,  inspire and lead these girls and women into a peaceful and safer future. 

Chasing the Cut: Film Poster
Image (c) Michael Ahabwe Mugerwa

We are not just making a film but working with communities and local activists to remind communities of their obligations to end Female Genital Mutilation and early marriages.  Supported by ICOD Action Network, we have taken upon our selves to help girls and mothers with extreme cases of fistula get free collective surgery from a  specialist. Some communities live 90 kilometers from the nearest health facility where such specialized surgery can be done while others are 320 kilometers away. 

We are  trying to raise funds on Indiegogo to get funds to pay for reconstruction surgery of some of the girls and women, support an education project for girls  to  keep them in school when they  flee their homes fearing being forced to undergo FGM and get funds to finish the documentary in 8 new locations in East Africa. 

We believe that by exposing the dangers of Female Genital Mutilation and working with communities to assess their strength and needs, they can shape their own future and completely stop Female Genital Mutilation. Join us to make this possible and lets build safer and healthier communities together. Please support our campaign which ends in 14 days here. You can also watch the trailer to our film, to know more about it.

Michael Ahabwe Mugerwa is a human rights activist and founder of two nonprofits in Uganda; ICOD Action Network ( and Center for Human Rights and Policy Studies ( Michael has been working on ending Female Genital Mutilation since 2012 and is the Chasing the Cut Team leader. Michael can be reached at