OVERVIEW OF FGM PRACTICES IN OROMIA
- Concept, Practices and Prevalence
In Afaan Oromo the traditionally accepted word for FGM which continues to be used is ‘kittaanaa’. In some areas, both male and female circumcision is referred to as ‘dhaqna-qabaa’ or ‘absumaa’. These words only convey the notion of ‘cutting’ but do not convey the concept or perception of a ‘mutilation’ and distinctions based on the type of FGM are not evident in all local Oromo dialectic.
In Oromia, 87.2% of women have undergone FGM (DHS, 2005), or 58.5% according to EGLDAM, 2007. FGM is sometimes carried out on infant girls as early as the 8th day after birth, but sometimes later. Oromo people who live close to or in the Amhara region perform FGM when girls are a few days old, under the influence of Amhara culture (EGLDAM, 2007).
However, FGM is carried out much later, sometimes just before marriage, in other parts of Oromia. For example, in parts of western Oromia FGM is carried out before the age of 10 and in the east between the ages of 9-12 (Boyden, Pankhurst and Tafere, 2013). In Arsi region, (south-east Oromia) FGM is carried out a few days or weeks before a girl’s wedding at the mother’s home and is part of the engagement ceremony (EGLDAM, 2007).
FGM is practiced by both of the main religions in Oromia – Waaqeffannaa (Oromo indigenous religion), Christianity (Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Adventist) and Islam. Muslim groups are more likely to practice FGM than Christian and Waaqeffannaa groups, with the prevalence among Muslim communities being 65.1% and that among Orthodox being 45%. The prevalence of FGM among Muslims is not only higher but is also changing more slowly (EGLDAM, 2007).
- Reasons for practicing FGM
Although every members of Oromo community in which FGM is practiced have different views, FGM practice is deeply entrenched with gender inequality. In the tradition, FGM is considered necessary for a girl to become a woman. In the south east of Oromia, for example, FGM is sometimes performed as part of an initiation into womanhood ritual.
FGM is often claimed to preserve a girl’s virginity and protect her from promiscuity and immoral behavior. For many families, an uncut girl is considered to be sexually promiscuous and not marriageable. Finally, FGM is sometimes associated with sexuality and the aesthetic appearance of the female body; uncut genitalia can be considered unclean or too masculine.
Advocacy for Oromia identified some key major reasons for carrying out FGM by members of Oromo community. Of these, some were found across Oromia and others specific to particular regions and groups:
- Suppressing women’s sexuality: Amongst the Oromo, FGM is considered necessary for preventing women from being too ‘sexy’ and too demanding on the husband for sex. FGM is also believed to prevent premarital sex and loss of virginity which would bring disgrace to the family.
- Control by or sexual satisfaction of husband: This was a reason given by many, although for slightly different reasons.
- To control women’s emotions: To prevent her from breaking utensils, being wasteful, absent minded and ‘ija-jabeettii fi ija- nyaattee’ (too bold).
- To avoid being ostracised and stigmatised: An uncircumcised woman is despised and considered a shame to her family. They are often ostracised by the community. Oromo referred to uncircumcised women as impure or ‘polluted’.
- Hygienic reasons
Some members of the community believe that the uncircumcised vulva is considered dirty. They believe that ‘losing blood by circumcision may even wash out some diseases. Thus FGM is advisable for girls who have certain diseases.
In general, FGM is a social norm and tradition, often enforced by community pressure and the threat of stigma. The alleged reason for this tradition is to curb the sexual drive of women and control them. The practice has nothing to do with any religion and is more of a traditional practice.