Culturally Sensitive Campaign to Eliminate FGM

Box 18

Female genital mutilation remains a sensitive and delicate issue, particularly where the practice is deeply rooted in the culture of the community. In the Ugandan district of Kapchorwa, past attempts to eliminate the practice have failed. A culturally sensitive initiative focused on influential groups in the community has proven more successful. Starting in 1995, members of the Elders' Association and clan leaders were taught about the harmful effects of the practice, in both sociocultural and reproductive health terms. The process evolved into the Reproductive, Educative and Community Health (REACH) programme, launched in January 1996.

REACH has actively sought to educate policy makers, health professionals, parents and adolescents on the need to do away with the practice. The programme stresses that a community's cultural values are different from cultural practices, and that practices can change without necessarily compromising values. It has promoted ceremonies marking adolescents' passage to adulthood which preserve the dancing and feasting that often accompany FGM, but replace the circumcision procedure with symbolic gift giving.

REACH has already had an impact. The programme reports that the number of girls and women undergoing FGM in eastern Uganda declined by 36 per cent between 1994 and 1996. The Elders' Association, clan leaders, women's groups and adolescents have agreed to discard FGM, a significant breakthrough in the struggle to eliminate the practice. As part of its service to the community, REACH also offers a reproductive health package, including training and supplies for traditional birth attendants, and family planning and reproductive health services.