‘Girls as capital’

Activists shine a light on what they say is hidden force driving prevalence of FGM


Activists in Tanzania have identified a factor that drives many families to force their girls to undergo female genital mutilation — money. According to Seleiman Bishagazi, chairman of the Kipunguni Knowledge Center in Dar es Salaam, families traditionally receive monetary gifts from friends and relatives when their daughters are put through FGM.

“I used to attend ceremonies, and I saw how people were benefiting from this,” he told Gayle Tzemach Lemmon in a story for CNN. “I knew right away they were using FGM as a source of income because people would say, ‘I will build a house after my daughter goes through this.’ They were using girls as capital.”

Similarly, he noted, the older women who performed the cutting ceremonies were also often dependent on the income. Performing FGM or forcing the practice on someone is punishable with prison in Tanzania, but Bishagazi says that many of the country’s poorest consider the risk to be worth it. According to UNICEF, 25 percent of Tanzania’s most impoverished girls and women aged 15 to 49 had undergone FGM — compared to 6 percent of women among the country’s wealthiest citizens.

To help combat the prevalence of the practice, Bishagazi teamed up with the Tanzania Gender Networking Program, a local women’s rights NGO, and started a local farming project. He asked women he knew who perform FGM to stop cutting and make better, steadier money by selling produce from the farm. At least two women agreed to stop cutting and begin working on the project, he said, and parents and women who previously supported cutting began to join in as well. Other Tanzania charities are engaging in similar efforts — for instance by offering women startup capital for small businesses in exchange for helping to stamp out the practice.

Upendo Jackson, a woman involved in the program, said she was forced to undergo FGM against her will by her mother, who bought land with the gifts she received for the ceremony. She said she was able to stop her sister from enduring the same fate by taking her to a police station, but she’s hopeful that empowering women economically could give them greater power in the community — and more options.

“Many people doing FGM are doing it because they’re poor,” she said. “We think we could end it if people could get some capital.”

A number of other young women in the program shared their thoughts on what drives the practice of FGM — including the powerful role played by elders in local communities.

Read the full story at CNN.


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