Young Influencers in Tanzania to Boost Campaign to end Female Genital Mutilation

Dar es Salaam-This week, The Head of UN Population Fund in Tanzania, Jacqueline Mahon and The Head of the  European Union Delegation to Tanzania and the East African Community, Ambassador Roeland Van De Geer met with young influencers in the country to scale up the campaign to end Female Genital Mutilation.

The young social media influencers namely; Rebecca Gyumi, Sam Awami, Jaqueline Mengi, Rio Paul and Nancy Sumari were encouraged to raise awareness about continued practice of Female Genital Mutilation -FGM among all audiences including among male audiences, to advocate for safe spaces such as safe houses for girls at risk of FGM, engage in advocacy to strengthen the legal response to FGM in Tanzania.  They were also encouraged to dispel harmful myths about the practice and share specific information on the damages caused by FGM.

Female Circumcision on the decline in Tanzania but more effort needed.

The Government of the United Republic of Tanzania criminalized female genital mutilation(FGM) in 1998 and since then, UNFPA indicates there has been a decline in the number of girls undergoing the harmful traditional practice. Anna Holmstrom is The Adolescent and Youth Gender Programme Analyst from UNFPA.  During the breakfast meeting, she informed participants that, “Within the past 20 year and since the criminalization, the prevalence of FGM has decreased from 18% to 10%”

According to the Sustainable Development Report for 2018, in 2017, one in three girls aged 15-19 had been subjected to female genital mutilation in the 30 countries where the practice is concentrated, compared to nearly one in two around 2000. On average one in ten women in Tanzania aged between 14-49 has undergone FGM.  Of these 35 % underwent FGM before the age of One. The country is committed to end this harmful practice by 2030 within the framework of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development.

According to Anna, an increasing number of girls are undergoing alternative rights of passage provided through the Masanga centre in Tarime, Mara Region and she casts this progress on the awareness raising efforts and systematic training of law enforcement on FGM response and gender based violence.

The Masanga Centre provides alternative woman hood education.

A briefing note provided by UNFPA to participants outlined that , “The national Plan of Action to end Violence against Women and Children also specifically addresses FGM as a traditional practice that harms women and children.  The continued practice has been highlighted as an area of concern by human rights treaties to which Tanzania is a signatory.”

Tanzania has some 126 tribes and few of those communities inherited forth and still practice this harmful practice which is in some tribes used to initiate young girls into adulthood.  A myriad of myths exists including religious ones to justify the damaging female cut.  Certain tribes believe that when a girl is circumcised she will settle down-it controls her sexuality preventing her from having many male partners-in Arusha and Singida, they believe the female cut helps to prevent a certain type of genital infection called ‘lawalawa’.  In a follow-up interview, Anna from UNFPA clarified that, “We can remove this practice without destroying the culture- it is in contradiction with human rights this is a harmful traditional practice which can be eliminated.”  She briefed how myths should be replaced with facts. “We can reach the young people and let them know, No one has the right to mutilate somebody’s body, nobody has the right to cut you, nobody should tell you to have sex when you don’t want to have sex all this things are to be known by all young people-Everyone  nobody has the right to decide it is the girls body and no one should touch her”

Anna emphasized that UNFPA has initiated the engagement of the influencers in order to increase visibility for the end FGM campaign.

The Government through the Tanzania Police Force has established gender desks across the country which are helping to arrest and address this issue.  UNFPA has conducted information awareness sessions with ‘Wazee wa Baraza’  in Mara- the elderly as well as The Commission of Human Rights and Good Governance. Non Governmental Organisations are also based in Mara region where the problem was more evident addressing the issue.  However, the practice is still being done.  One of the influencers, Rebecca Gyumi informed how when she recently travelled to the Mara region in North West Tanzania, she heard of a festive circumcision season which happens around the first week of January.  “I was surprised to see people moving around the Masanga camp asking us to release the girls back to their community. It seems the people are yet to understand and I also heard that if a calendar year divides in two like this 2018-then it means more girls will be circumcises in that year. I believe more effort needs to be put into this year, to save the girls than ever before”

According to data provided by UNFPA, Female genital mutilation prevalence is in many parts of the country including in the more urban city of Dar es Salaam.  However, the worst hit areas are Manyara, The Capital City Dodoma(47%), Arusha 41% and Singida 31% regions and yet more NGO’s are based in Mara region. Of course, one could argue that the problem is higher in the rural areas and that is where more action needs to happen if we really want to thrush out this practice.  There is need to look at strengthened intervention in the other regions with high incidences of FGM and which are also quite dry prompting those practicing to financially rely on the practice.

Economic incentives from the harmful practice are said to drive the practice on an upward graph. An elderly women who performs the cuts is called a ’ngariba’. A ngariba is paid handsomely to cut out the female genital parts, the dangerous part is that sometimes the ngariba’s use the same blade to chop off the parts, posing- high risk of infectious diseases to the young girls.  In recent times, ngariba’s have been provided with alternative skills set training as well as educated about the evils of the practice.  They have been informed how FGM has a detrimental impact of the health of women and girls including on their psychology, sexual and reproductive health.  FGM can cause death, pain, infections, and increase maternal and neonatal mortality.

The Delegation of the European Union and UNFPA understand that in order to curb the disease completely, a multi-sectoral approach is essential.  The awareness raising needs an intensified approach to #EndFGM.  Ambassador Van De Geer said, “ I think we had an excellent meeting with young influencers and am very happy that UNFPA and the EU do this together, we have a supporting role, I think the young influencers have an inter medial role but of course in the end the change of attitude and the change of practice will have to happen in the areas.  I think this is very much a matter of young people.  Young people will have to decide on the future.  Young people will have to change since its their age group- young people have to take their destiny in their own hands so it is extremely important.”

One of the participants, Jacqueline Mengi is the owner of Amorette furnitures, a former musician, the wife of one of Tanzania’s richest and has around 1.2 million followers on Instagram said, “ I am pleased to be invited to this event and I believe this is just the beginning of engaging in awareness.”

Another participant, Nancy Sumari who is a social entrepreneur, Managing Director of Bongo5 Media Group (T) Ltd, The Executive Director of The Neghesti Sumari Foundation, author and founder of The Jenga Hub said, “This is the first time this is happening, it’s a good partnership and the information received was good, we have opened our eyes and have been informed so we can go out and speak with various people on the harmful practice, I believe if we unite our efforts, we will end FGM even before 2030.”  The other influencers include Rebecca Gyumi who has 53.2kfollowers on Instagram and is a Founder & Executive Director at Msichana Initiative, a Tanzanian NGO which aims to empower a girl child through education, Sam Awamy who is an agile BBC journalist and Rio Paul a UN Tanzania Sustainable Development Goals Champion.

UNFPA and the EU Delegation to Tanzania and the East African community are hosting two events to upscale this campaign.  The first is an evening with the champions active to #EndFGM on 16th July from 5:00p.m. East African Time(EAT) at Alliance Francaise in Dar es salaam.  At this event, there will be keynotes and movie screening hosted in cooperation with the Embassy of Ireland, The Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands and The British High Commission and the Canadian High Commission.

The second event will be a national forum to commemorate the Day of the Girl Child in mid-October.  At this four day workshop, promising interventions will be showcased and commitment by relevant stakeholders to end harmful practices ensured.