Life Together International is working among the Sabiny people of Eastern Uganda who have practiced female genital mutilation (FGM) throughout the history of their tribe. The practice is intended to reduce the woman’s sexual desire by removing her clitoris and cutting off the labia majora and the labia minora (FGM, Type III). With the clitoris removed, the woman is unable to have pleasure during sex. In fact, FGM causes a buildup of scar tissue, often making sexual intercourse excruciatingly painful.
The thought is that because sex is painful instead of pleasurable, the unmarried girl will not want to have intercourse before marriage, and will therefore, remain a virgin for her husband. Also, the married woman will stay faithful because she won’t be interested in sex with anyone other than the man who requires it: her own husband.
The message of Life Together International has had a powerful effect on thousands of Sabiny men and women. We have been told that prior to our interactions with the Sabiny people, their leaders had dismissed the teachings of many NGOs because their arguments were based on women’s rights.
The Sabiny are largely Christian people, but they traditionally did not believe women had rights. So, in 2011, Life Together International began approaching them from a different point of view. First, we teach from Bible passages that show women and men equally bear the image of God, and that women and men equally share authority over creation (Genesis 1:26-28).
We then offer biological and psychological information to explain what a husband and wife gain if the wife’s body is intact, and what she and her husband lose if she is mutilated and not capable of reaching sexual climax.
Finally, we have a compelling PowerPoint presentation created by a Ugandan gynecologist that teaches the medical dangers of FGM.
This three-pronged approach has convinced thousands of Sabiny people—clergy, youth (both boys and girls), and local government officials that it is right to end the practice. In January of 2016, even the traditional “surgeons,” the ones who have cut the girls bodies, have made the decision to join with those who want to abandon the practice of Female Genital Mutilation.
However, we have yet to reach one demographic—the men who still feel they have a vested interest in the practice.
Many of the men we are teaching this fall do not have a strong Christian background, or the benefit of a higher education. What they do have is a strong belief in the value of their cultural traditions—Female Genital Mutilation/cutting (FGM) being one of the most cherished.
We are all products of our cultural heritages. Some of the practices of culture are healthy and some are not. But culture is what holds all communities together even though some aspects of many cultures have negative consequences, like those caused by FGM. These consequences are detrimental, not only to the women whose bodies are forever altered by the practice, but to the men as well.
At this point, the men we are trying to reach do not understand how FGM is hurting them. Some of these men are married to women who have not yet been cut. Some are fathers of girls who have reached the age of cutting and marriage (age 14 to 18). These fathers want their girls to become “proper Sabiny women” (through having their genitals removed). Some are marriage-aged men who want to find a wife during the cutting season and believe the future success of their marriage depends on having a wife who is cut.
These husbands, fathers and marriage-aged men are trying to force their wives, daughters and future brides into “circumcision” this December, the season of cutting. They don’t yet realize how much happier their home life, and especially, their sexual life with their wives could be if women’s bodies are able to function the way God intended.
Every group of Sabiny people we have spoken from 2011 to 2016 has understood our teachings on the beauty of God’s design for his daughters’ bodies. They have all grasped the wisdom regarding the biology of sexual bonding that takes place between a husband and wife, only when the wife’s body is intact as God designed it. They all know many women (including our workshop participants themselves) who have suffered the medical consequences of FGM as explained in our gynecologist’s PowerPoint presentation.
And amazingly, they have all been willing to end the practice of FGM! Now, many people in the tribe are ready to create a new rite of passage into womanhood for their girls—a rite of passage without FGM. They want a rite of passage that will transform the entire tribe and signify a tribal change toward the high value of women.
That is why we have been asked to address these men who are still in need of seeing the significance of making the changes that so many of their tribe’s people are eager to embrace. It is our prayer that God will achieve the same result from our outreach to these fathers, husbands and marriage-aged men as he has in all our other interactions with the Sabiny people.
You can watch the progress of our efforts on this website.
I hope you will keep Life Together International in your daily prayers from September 11 th – October 19 th .
In God’s grace,
Rev. Patti Ricotta