Women coming from under the knife as Uganda outlaws female circumcision

Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, has outlawed female circumcision, otherwise referred to as female genital mutilation (FGM). Before discussing this political victory, a brief background will be given on FGM. This horrible practice that removes a female’s clitoris and sometimes other parts of her genitals is performed on little girls as young as 2 years of age. The weapons that are used for this practice are usually unsanitary and used on the same women. The women receive no anesthesia for this procedure and feel every inch of pain. What’s even more unbelievable is that females who do not survive this procedure are thought to have been witches deserving of their death. The females who undergo this unspeakable procedure may sometimes hemorrhage to death.

The idea of FGM is pushed into the psyche of these young girls and is forced upon them as a way to be more desirable to men and be considered as a wife. This practice occurs so that the females will not experience sexual gratification, thus lowering the incidence of sex before marriage and adultery in marriage. Some of the consequences of FGM include increased vulnerability to infections and complications during childbirth. It is also important to mention that FGM does not only occur in Africa, it also occurs frequently in some Asian and Middle Eastern cultures as well. Even though FGM is illegal in more than a dozen countries in Africa, laws are seldom imposed to protect females.

The bill prohibiting FGM in Uganda was approved by Uganda’s parliament late night Thursday, December 10th, as reported by Uganda’s Minister of Ethics and Integrity James Nsaba Buturo. Offenders may receive up to a life sentence.

What does this bill mean? It means than now Ugandan women have a voice against injustice. Their cries have finally been heard and answered. Only time will tell if Ugandan women will actually be protected and kept from harm’s way with this bill. We are watching and will keep you updated on the status of Uganda’s bill outlawing FGM. At last, baby girls, little girls, teenage girls, and adult women will no longer have to suffer like the child below.

Jeneil Williams in Acne Paper

Jeneil Williams shoots an editorial in Acne Paper that fuses eye-catching colors & patterns in her wardrobe styled by Mattias Karisson and makeup by Gemma Smith-Edhouse.

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The Fight Against Maternal Mortality

In May, the world celebrated Mother’s Day and the theme was “ maternal mortality” due to the shocking rate of death of mothers or expectant mothers recorded. Although the number of women dying during pregnancy is globally recorded, death immediately following child birth or a few days after birth has gone down by 35% since 1980. The fact that a large number of women are still dying especially in Africa due to a number of causes is saddening. With Sierra Leone being ranked by the United Nations as the worst place in the world for a child to be born, 159 out of 1000 children die before they reach age five.

It is also shocking that in some developing countries like Egypt and Ecuador, the number of maternal death is decreasing while in developed countries like the United States, Canada and Norway, the death rate is going up. According to a survey published in the Lancent Medical Journal, the researchers estimated that a number of 342,900 maternal deaths occur worldwide which indicates that a lot has to be done.

The HIV/Aids epidemic has greatly contributed to maternal mortality in Eastern and Southern Africa. According to the researchers, they indicated that nearly 1 out of every 5 maternal deaths were associated with the HIV infection. Abortion was also pointed out as another driving force behind maternal death. According to Phillip Danny, a consultant obstetrician and gynecologist from the United States, in his presentation titled “Abortion Essential Component of Women’s Health” given at the first international congress on women’s health and unsafe abortion in Bangkok, he says that 54% of all maternal deaths in Africa are due to unsafe abortion due to the lack of access to modern family planning methods. According to the United Nations about 200 million couples in the less developed world need family planning methods but have limited access to them.

In a report by Reuter, it was recorded that about 80% of all deaths in pregnant women and new mothers occured in 21 countries, with half of the deaths occuring in Pakistan, India, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is quite surprising that with the advances in medical techinology, women are still dying from various causes both in developed and underdeveloped countries primarily due to the the inability to access reproductive healthcare especially in Africa where women have to walk miles to access health centers and at times the available health workers do not have sufficient, professional skills to handle the vulnerable women.

Several strategies could be adopted to minimize the problem. Health care centers should be established near the women who are in need of them the most, medicine and other health services should be available at affordable prices, or it would be even better if they can be accessed freely. Health workers’ wages should be fair and received at the right time to avoid catastrophes like strikes. Blood banks should be well equipped to properly store the available blood to keep it from going bad. This will eliminate the number of women dying due to the lack of blood. Society has to be informed about maternal mortality and the ways it can be eliminated.  Family planning methods should be available and in the words of a Thai women activitist for reproductive rights, Mr. Allan Rosenfield, “women are not dying from diseases that we cannot treat, but they are dying because societies have yet to make the decision that their lives are worth saving”.

Contributor Joy Segawa

Polygamy to be Banned in Malawi

A law seeking to ban polygamy in Malawi has left many people in the country with different reactions. In a country that has been hurt deeply by the AIDS epidemic, a call like the ban of polygamy would seem like a blessing in disguise. It has left many people divided even in women circles. Banning polygamy is viewed by some as a good thing while others condemn the thought completely.

The president of Malawi, H.E President Bingu wa Mutharika said polygamy was denying women their basic rights. Government says the move will help curb rising spread of HIV and AIDS cases. In many parts of Africa, polygamy is a choice and part of a cultural heritage. Some even embrace it in their religions and a young woman will accept to be a third or even forth wife without wincing. Sophia just turned 33 and is the third wife of a Muslim man. They live in Blantyre, Malawi and neither of them is happy about the proposed ban. Sophia says that she is happy living alongside her co-wives and together they support their husband and keep him happy.

Not every women thinks like Sophia and the feeling is not limited to a difference in class either. Aisha is also Muslim and works as a legal officer in Blantyre and she is elated about the new proposed law. She is has just gotten married and she is aware that her husband might use the fact that their religion and culture allows it to get another wife years down the road. For her, the ban is the best thing that could happen in Malawi.

The Ministry of Gender, Child Development and Community Services says that the Marriages, Divorce and Family Values bill is meant to protect women and children against “abusive polygamous husbands”. Anyone found guilty will face up to five years in prison.

The Muslim and the Ngoni communities are the most likely to be affected in the country and they consist up to one third of the country’s population. The Muslim community is upset by the proposed bill and they say that it will encroach on their rights since it is allowed in their religion. Parliament is set to meet to discuss and table the bill in Lilongwe, the Nation’s capital come May 21st. The Muslims say that they will fight against this bill if the law is passed successfully by parliament.

Ms. Patricia Kaliati, the Minister for Gender, Child Development and Community Services said the bill was intended to enhance family values, adding that it was impossible for a man to share equal love among three or four women. She said that the government had consulted widely and received the approval of all Malawians, including the grassroots and religious communities. The bill also proposes mandatory HIV testing before marriage but that does not stop widespread condemnation from many parties. The Muslim community especially has dismissed the bill as ill conceived.

Imran Shareef Mohammed who is the secretary-general for the Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM) has described the bill as discriminatory and in violation of Malawi’s constitution, which is founded on secular principles. His reason is that banning polygamy would push women into prostitution because there were many more women in the country than men. He still added and cited that Malawi was a peaceful nation and that it was dangerous to enact laws seen to be favouring other religions. Almost all churches in Malawi frown upon polygamy.

The proposal comes barely a week after the government, through the Population and Development ministry, proposed a population policy that limits the number of children at four per family. Minister Abbie Shaba urged UN agencies to support the government in its efforts to educate the public on the need to have smaller families. The UN population agency UNFPA says Malawi’s current population of 14 million was likely to triple by 2050.

Still in some African cultures, polygamy is forced upon the women. For the older women in the marriage, they look out for a capable younger woman as a co-wife to help around the house with the housework. In most cases, all parties concerned are aware of what they are getting in to. The First wife generally has a say on who the husband chooses as his second wife, and third wife and so forth. She has to approve of the woman before she is brought into the house. In modern societies though, as much as it may be part of culture, not many woman willingly embrace the incoming of a new wife.

South African President Jacob Zuma and his three wives

President Mutharika advises that women should be accorded their full potential and not be part and parcel of polygamous unions. Dr. Mutharika himself just tied the knot to his party member Callista Chimombo. He lost his first wife to cancer.

Chikondi, a fashion designer in Lilongwe backs her president. She is married with three children and she says that if her husband so much as talked about getting a new wife, she would pack her bags along with her children and walk out of her marriage without a fight.

While some women and men embrace polygamy, there are some like Chikondi who will support the ban full blast. If the ban is in effect after May 21st, hopefully polygamy will not be as widespread…in Malawi at least.

Contributor Patricia Olwoch

Women and Cancer in Uganda

With wide spread sensitization on cancer around the world, many women in Uganda have never had a cancer test. Both in the rural and the urban areas, some women have never even heard about cancer or the symptoms of cancer.

Recently, the Ministry of health announced that there is an increase in the cases of breast cancer among women less than 40 years of age in the country. As compared to the Western world where diagnosis is still among women aged 50 plus, in Uganda, reports have shown that the age trend has lowered from 40-50 year olds down to 30-40 year olds. Even though early screening could help save a life, a senior health worker revealed that some women are shying away from cervical cancer screening because they fear to undress before health workers.

Mugisha, a health medical officer at the Cancer Institute in Mulago Hospital in Kampala said that breast cancer screening in Uganda is still new. The majority of the patients he has encountered at the hospital report late and still a bigger number die before they get any medical treatment. He confirms that the danger of getting breast cancer increases as a woman gets older. His youngest patient was a 19 year old girl who died during treatment at the institute. She had been brought by her parents to the hospital as a last resort after other medical practitioners they had gone to advised them that it might be cancer.

Susan has just turned forty and she expected that she might get cancer since both her mother and grandmother had died of cancer when they turned forty. She was determined to do whatever it takes to protect herself. She ate right and exercised and every year from when she was 25, she went for a mammogram, travelling as far as South Africa since she could not get that done in Uganda at the time. Last year, Susan got the news that she has been dreading all her life, she was found to have a suspicious spot on her left breast. It was confirmed later that it is cancer.

Fortunately for Susan, it had been caught early as a result of her regular checkups. Among the young in Uganda, breast cancer cases are on the rise as the awareness levels of women is also increasing. This is according to Dr. Jacinto Amadua, the commissioner clinical services, in the Ministry of Health. He attributes the increase to the fact that more young women are coming up for the test as compared to the past when it was only the older women coming forth. Some young women believe that they are too young to get cancer and thus ignore the call for screening. In the rural areas, the lumps found in the breasts are dismissed as cysts and by the time the women seek professional medical advice, it is often too late.

Screening does save lives as when detected early, treatment can start immediately. Still, the main problem is that there is widespread ignorance in most parts of the country. Inadequate infrastructure and shortage of cancer specialists means that most people have no access to early diagnosis, treatment or palliative care-all of which have contributed to the increase of cancer cases in the country.

Dr Olive Sentumbwe, a senior gynecologist at the World Health Organisation, said health workers need to create a more inviting environment for women so that they can easily open up.

“Once the woman knows that there is a level of confidentiality and privacy between her and the health worker, then she can easily accept to be screened. Men and women fear to expose their privacy.”

Health works across the country are sensitizing the population on the pros and cons of cancer screening. They advise women to get tested especially if they have a family history, if they know that they have a risky mutation and if they have ever suffered from cancer because the chances are that they may develop another unrelated form of cancer. They also caution women on holding back on screening if they are suffering from another serious illness, if a person is sick and frail and if a woman is too scared to undergo the test. In this case they take the woman through counseling to build a trust and friendship first.

As much as there are no proven causes of cancer worldwide, in Uganda even in modern circles there is a lot of misconception about what causes breast cancer. Some people say that it is caused by deodorants and other anti-perspirants, wearing a tight bra, and may be contagious. None of these factors have been shown to increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer though.

So far there are only two screening places in Uganda, both of them at the Mulago hospital in Kampala. The Cancer Institute intends to train more health workers around the country so that screening will be available at every health center across the country. Hopefully in the long run, many more women will take the test and get treated early if cancer is detected.

Contributor Patricia Olwoch

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