26 March 2021 - Women
Like 95 per cent of women in her Ugandan community, Margaret Chepoteltel underwent female genital mutilation (FGM) as a child, subjecting her to lifelong health problems. Today, she is raising awareness of the dangers of FGM, as part of a UN-backed programme.
‘I have never felt so much pain in my entire life’
“Today, I curse the practice of female genital mutilation, but as a child I actually looked forward to it: I thought it would mean that I was ready for marriage and that I could fulfil my parents’ wish for cattle, because a “cut” woman fetches a larger dowry than an “uncut” woman. It happened when I was 13 and, two years later, I was married off and went to live with my husband’s family. After two years of marriage, I became pregnant but there were problems during the birth. I had to travel a long distance to the health facility, which weakened me.
The baby couldn’t pass through, and the birth attendant cut my private parts in order to allow the child to pass, which meant that I was bleeding badly. I have never felt so much pain in my entire life. Somehow I survived, but I eventually lost my baby.
I didn’t know that the birth complications, and many of my other health issues, were linked to cutting. I eventually found out when I was approached by the Communication for Development Foundation Uganda (CDFU), and attended a meeting on FGM.
Ending FGM for good
I now have two daughters, aged seven and eight. Every time I see them, I imagine them going through what I went through, and my heart tightens. I talk to them about the dangers of female genital mutilation, and I have vowed that I don’t want any daughter of mine to go through this process that almost claimed my life. I later received community engagement training, and I advocate for zero tolerance for FGM in my village [Luchengenge, in the Amudat district of eastern Uganda]. I used to be worried about reprisals if I spoke out, but now I feel empowered to speak out, and end FGM for good. Now that I have a platform, I will continue raising awareness and testifying against female genital mutilation, even to men, because I know the dangers. If I keep quiet, our daughters will go through a lot of pain and suffering. We have to continue telling mothers, fathers, and the girls themselves about the dangers of FGM, and to discourage cutting. I will not give up”. Margaret Chepoteltel was speaking to the Spotlight Initiative a UN and European Union initiative to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls.
UNICEF/Henry Bongyereirwe: In Uganda, the UN provides support to young girls who have avoided genital mutilation.
The UN and the fight against FGM
The UN and the fight against FGMThe UN says that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected girls and women, resulting in what it calls “a shadow pandemic” disrupting the elimination of all harmful customs, including female genital mutilation.
In 2018, it was estimated by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) that globally 68 million girls were at risk; now the figure stands at 70 million.
Ms. Chepoteltel’s advocacy work in her village is part of the Communication for Development Foundation Uganda (CDFU) “Make Happiness Not Violence” campaign, which is being supported by the Spotlight Initiative and UN Women.
UN Women supports CDFU as an Implementing Partner to end violence against women and girls in Uganda. Supported campaigns use media and community mobilization approaches, to mobilize individuals, communities and institutions to promote positive change social norms, attitudes and practices and discourage harmful practices.