The Fight against FGM

Bringing Hope to Girls in Tanzania

Reporting by Olga Turko

Tanzania Development Trust plays an active role in the fight against female genital mutilation (FGM) in rural Tanzania. By the start of 2019, TDT had raised and transferred more than £200,000 to support the fight against FGM. By donating through TDT’s Girls’ Rights Fund, you can support this work and our goal to bring the practice to an end.

The Need to combat FGM
Introducing Rhobi Samwelly
The Safe Houses
How YOU can help

The Need to combat FGM

In rural cow-based economies, many girls are forced to undergo FGM by their parents in the hopes of securing a higher dowry – girls uncut are believed to be more promiscuous. Others are forced by their family in the name of ‘tradition’, an act without which she would be shunned in her village. And since cutting ceremonies require new clothes, food and the services of a local circumciser, the argument is made that the practice supports the local economy.

When TDT first became involved in the struggle against FGM, we were even asked at our AGM whether we were being ‘colonial’, imposing a Western standard on local culture.

Despite such attitudes, the human rights and health issues are stark:

  • FGM carries with it serious health consequences such as infection, infertility, difficulties during childbirth and bleeding to death.
  • FGM is so often the first step towards girls being forced into early marriage.
  • FGM terrifies at-risk girls. Upon reaching adolescence many young women run away from home to escape their cutting ceremony.
  • FGM is an issue tightly connected to the position of women in society.
  • 95% of women aged 15-49 state that they believe FGM should be brought to a stop (https://dhsprogram.com/pubs/pdf/FR321/FR321.pdf).

Since 1998, the Tanzanian government has criminalized FGM on under-18’s, yet 10% of women aged between 15-49 still undergo FGM, with the prevalence in certain Regions in the centre and north of the country ranging between 30% to as high as 60%.

FGM stats by Tanzanian region

Prevalence of FGM by Region – source:  28 Too Many (Download Report)

Introducing Rhobi Samwelly

TDT Local Representative Rhobi Samwelly knows only too well the pain girls go through, as she herself was a victim of FGM. Rhobi is passionate about ending the practice, and even before working with TDT, had spent many years leading a team of actors, singers and dancers into villages to educate and change attitudes towards FGM.

Rhobi is an unstoppable force, and has spoken passionately in front of members of the Houses of Parliament and the UN, and the Canadian Parliament, about her own experience of undergoing FGM as a child. She addressed audiences of the film In the Name of your Daughter in London, Amsterdam and elsewhere.

Yet, it is Rhobi’s work at the community level that is most impressive. Rhobi has organised countless anti-FGM roadshows in local villages, on the serious health complications that arise from cutting. Working closely with the police, she has pushed for prosecutions where necessary, often requiring considerable personal courage. Not only have they managed to sway parents against the practice but they have even caused some cutters to drop their tools.

WATCH: Rhobi Samwelly tells her story at a high level panel UN at a side event of the general assembly in September 2018.

The Safe Houses

The ‘original’ Safe House, Mugumu

anti-FGM Safe House funded by TanzaniaDevelopmentTrust in Mara, TanzaniaIn 2014, ACT Diocese of Mara requested our help in raising funds for a safe house in Mugumu, in the Mara region. The Mara region is home to the Kurya, a local semi-nomadic population with the belief that female circumcision is necessary and a man can reject any woman who has not undergone this as non-marriageable.

The safe house was envisaged not only to save at-risk girls, but also as playing a central role in bridging the gap between areas affected by FGM and international organisations fighting gender based violence. It was also to be a base for educational programmes and spreading the anti-FGM message.

The safe house was completed successfully, through the generosity of donors around the world, and protected 329 girls in its first three years of operation. in addition to the buildings, a new 10 seater 4WD drive vehicle was purchased to assist in the rescue of girls, and other donations helped fund essential workers. In total, approximately £165,000 was sent to the Safe House.

The Safe House is now operated by the Diocese. Though we cannot hide our disappointment that TDT no longer has any input into the original Safe House, we are delighted to be able to continue supporting its driving force, former Director and visionary, Rhobi Samwelly.

Hope for Girls and Women

Rhobi’s journey since setting up Hope for Girls and Women has not been an easy one. She has had to operate from two rented properties, in Butiama and Mugumu, which lack the amenities of the purpose-built original Safe House. There is no access to the vehicle donated to the original Safe House for anti-FGM work. Also, Hope for Girls and Women is not supported in its running costs by a major patron such as ACT Diocese of Mara, .

But Hope protected almost as many girls in its first year – 315 – as the original Safe House had in three years.

Everyday costs are driven by the number of girls at the safe houses and being helped, and at the busiest ‘cutting season’ times, the needs can be overwhelming. In November/December 2018, the safe houses were flooded by more than 300 girls. Resources were strained to the extent that girls had to be housed 3 to a mattress, in addition to the constant need to feed over 300 girls.

graph of operating costs of Hope for Girls and Women 2018

Whilst international agencies have supported Hope, some of this is targetted towards important outreach programmes, and the pressing need for support with running costs cannot be understated. The chart of Hope’s running costs in 2018 shows the extreme seasonality, driven by numbers of girls (click graph to enlarge).

By supporting Hope, you will make a direct contribution to saving girls from FGM.

Once the ‘cutting season’ is over, Rhobi’s team, coordinating with local police, meets the parents and guardians of girls staying at the safe houses to ensure they can return home to a safe environment, free from any forms of gender based violence.

By mid-February 2019, 235 of 315 girls from the 2018/19 ‘cutting season’ had been returned to their homes. Sadly, we know of at least 12 that have subsequently undergone FGM. These were reported to the District Commissioner and OCD for further action, with some arrests made and court cases pending.

If the girl’s family refuses to sign binding agreements at the police station to not harm their daughters, Hope will support girls to remain at the safe house and begin attending school nearby. However, this only adds to the ongoing running costs, during a part of the year in which costs should be much reduced. In 2018, around 30% of girls were sadly unable to return home. In mid-February 2019, 80 girls, though the reconciliation was continuing in collaboration with police gender desk and social welfare officer.

How YOU can help

Tanzania Development Trust is one of a number of agencies and groups, both abroad and within Tanzania, supporting Hope for Girls and Women. TDT is a founder member of Hope for Girls and Women International Support Group, which seeks to build networks of supporters for Rhobi’s work.

Hope’s needs are ongoing and great.

If you represent an organisation interested in supporting Hope: if you would like to join the International Support Group, or discuss other means of getting involved, please CONTACT US. Of course, we can help transmit your donations if you need.

If you are an individual: you can donate through TDT’s Girls’ Rights Fund, with TDT’s promise that 100% of all donations received will be spent on the fight against FGM. If you would like to support in other ways, for example through holding an event, climbing Kili, running a marathon etc, then again, please CONTACT US and we’d be delighted to advise and support.