Women petition court to outlaw FGM

Women’s rights activists in Uganda have petitioned the Constitutional Court demanding that female genital mutilation (FGM), practised by several communities in the east of the country, be declared illegal.

"We are seeking a court declaration that the practice is unconstitutional; it is cruel, inhuman and degrading," said Dora Byamukama, a member of the East Africa Legislative Assembly and one of the campaigners against FGM in Uganda.

The activists, who have formed a group known as Law and Advocacy for Women in Uganda, earlier in April succeeded in having the Constitutional Court abrogate the country's law on adultery on the grounds that it made marital infidelity an offence only when committed by women while seemingly condoning it when men were involved.

Gertrude Kulany, a former member of parliament, said FGM was practised in Kapchorwa, Bukwo, Bugiri, Nakapiripirit and Moroto districts.

"I am one of the few who were lucky and escaped the practice, but most of my contemporaries went through it because whichever girl in the village attains puberty is initiated into womanhood through circumcision," said Kulany. "Those who refuse are tormented as their in-laws despise them because they are not circumcised."

A lawyer for the women, Ladislaus Rwakafuzi, said FGM denied its victims human dignity, which is guaranteed under the country's constitution.

Beatrice Chelengat, programme manager of an FGM awareness campaign sponsored by the United Nations Population Fund in the eastern Kapchorwa district, said 647 women aged between 11 and 31 were subjected to FGM in 2002 out of an estimated 13,000 females in that age group. The figures for 2004 and 2006 were 595 and 426 respectively, she said, adding that anti-FGM campaigns in the area were bearing fruit.

FGM involves the cutting and/or removal of the clitoris and other vaginal tissue, often under unsanitary conditions. It is practised in at least 28 countries globally. The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimates that up to 140 million girls and women around the world have undergone some form of FGM.

It is practised extensively in Africa, and also in parts of the Middle East and among immigrant communities around the world. According to medical experts, it causes physical and psychological complications, as well as heightening the risk of HIV/AIDS when unsterilised instruments are used.

At least 16 African countries have banned the practice, and the Maputo Protocol, an African regional document that prohibits and condemns FGM, came into force in November 2005.

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